Innovative social distancing system in operation in Health Innovation One

The Health Innovation Campus is the testing site for a unique, automated, social distancing and way-finding system, devised by Lancaster University’s new School of Architecture.

The model uses algorithms, special design exploration processes, generative software, sympathetic signage, electronically created floorplans and heat tracking and mapping to build bespoke systems and help ensure buildings are COVID-19 safe.

Working with the Health Innovation Campus team, the project – funded via Beyond Imagination, a £13.2m Research England initiative at the University’s design-led research laboratory ImaginationLancaster – has been rolled out in the new £41m Health Innovation One building.

Dr Sherry Kothari, Director of the new campus, said: “I have always felt that the Health Innovation Campus should be at the vanguard of new ways of doing things so I’m delighted to be able to put the latest research around social distancing into our new building as a test bed for that work.

“The signage Des and his team have come up with is simple and effective -using our building layout to come up with modelling which informs where the signage goes and how it works – and a really bespoke approach.

“As we look at ways of allowing people to live more normal lives, coming up with new adaptive systems which encourage this while maintaining health and safety will be essential.”

Generative design exploration methods were used to automate and implement optimised wayfinding designs to improve the risk of areas identified as non-compliant. An exclusion zone between two passing users was automatically tracked onto the floor plans by software to highlight areas ‘at risk’ of non-compliance for social distancing.

The distancing measures are able to respond to changes in government advice in relation the distance between customers and can be adapted to conform to different social distancing rules.

An algorithm, or computer calculation, then generated an optimised layout for wayfinding and floor signage/graphics based on minimum distances between furniture and walls. This was then checked and evaluated by the designer.

The study will provide data gathering for analysis and review of the success of social distancing measures. A user survey and heat mapping tracking will provide qualitative data on experience and operational success.

This ‘hands-on’ research aims to provide a unique methodology using special visual programming packages and computer-aided design to automate a risk analysis of existing floor plans to identify areas of social distance non-compliance.

Central to the new model is an array of imaginative signage, created by Preston-based Wash Design, who considered how signage design impacts the effectiveness of social distancing measures, branding and avoiding signage ‘fatigue’. Wash used geometrical shapes in addition a palette of blue, green and yellow of mid tones to coordinate different instructions and information and create a fresh, friendly and confident tone

The friendly connotations associated with a circle reflects the approachability of general ‘greeting’ messages. While the universal connotation of a hexagon, flags more serious questions and statements. Finally, the form of a triangle naturally lends itself to directional signage.

The system has already been tested by Lancaster City Council, which was keen to explore using the novel social distancing mode for retailers in the area.

Des Fagan, Project Leader and Head of Architecture at Lancaster University, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Health Innovation Campus on this project. Currently no quantitative or qualitative research has been completed on how automated processes may impact the design of existing or proposed public spaces in the context of social distancing measures.

“We decided to come up with a unique and adaptable automated solution which will enable the input of floor plans to quickly generate signage that reacts to changes in government advice regarding social distancing.

“We will evaluate customer responses which will help us understand how people respond to certain types of signage over time. This is significant because social distancing, in one form or another, will be with us for some time.”

You can see a video with more details about the project here https://bit.ly/3oawyXz

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