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Corbin Design’s Mark Vanderklipp Outlines Buffalo Wayfinding Development Process

Buffalo State Univ., Buffalo Niagara Medical Center Benefit from Stronger Identities



Mark Vanderklipp is president of Corbin Design (Traverse City, MI).

With a nod to the impressive winter weather upstate New York experiences, Corbin Design recently completed two, comprehensive exterior wayfinding projects: Buffalo State, a SUNY college, and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC).Located roughly three miles apart, each project presented similar challenges. The BNMC is located between the Allentown and Fruit Belt neighborhoods, to the north and east of Buffalo’s downtown core. Bordered by the Kensington Expressway (33) and several main roadways that traverse the city, BNMC is an economic engine. Because it continues to grow and attract new businesses, the pressure on the city grid (especially at certain times of the day, such as shift changes) created frustrating traffic bottlenecks. Corbin Design’s wayfinding analysis utilized current and future traffic projections to clearly direct circulation throughout campus, both for staff and visitors.

Buffalo State is similarly situated near the Scajaquada Expressway (198) and identifies two primary highway exits to access campus. We conceptually split the campus into two halves based on the campus plan and boundary roadways that serve two distinct audiences: academic-building traffic is directed down Elmwood, which is the traditional “front door” of campus and features iconic Rockwell Hall. Sporting-event visitors use Grant St. to more easily access parking and athletic facilities. This reduces cross-campus vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The Buffalo State system incorporates 17 pedestrian kiosks and 71 vehicular markers, which include guides, gateways, parking and street signs), and the BNMC incorporates 9 pedestrian markers and 28 vehicular signs, which includes perimeter guides, gateways, internal guides and DOT information.

Diverse stakeholders
In order to solve the wayfinding problems on each campus, Corbin Design first had to learn from those that experience the problems daily. At Buffalo State,they brought together administrators, students, faculty, events and facilities planners, communications and campus security to understand the challenges faced by each audience. Their observations led to several recommendations:
• Design campus circulation based on the realities of the campus plan;
• Direct to visitor parking and the visitor’s center as primary destinations;
• Identify existing campus landmarks (prominent buildings and quads) and create new landmarks; and
• Clarify parking and rules for students, staff and visitors, and
• Establish a new wayfinding team that supports consistent wayfinding communications across campus

The BNMC campus consists of multiple institutions, located throughout Buffalo and concentrated within the BNMC campus. Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the University at Buffalo (UB) and Kaleida Health comprise the largest campus partners; along with these, a growing roster of research, academic and healthcare related businesses are locating here. Both the campus and the neighborhoods feature amenities such as shopping, dining and transit stops. Corbin Design built a system of wayfinding standards that established a hierarchy for each institution to efficiently direct first-time visitors.


First time visitors
And, speaking of them, they are coming to each campus at any time of the day or night. Because BNMC has one existing emergency room in Kaleida Health’s Buffalo General Medical Center, direction on the signage needed to cover any potential pathway to that destination: it appears prominently as the first listing, in a bright red panel with white type. As the campus expands, a new Oishei Children’s Hospital will contain a pediatric emergency room. The wayfinding is designed to accommodate this change on the day the Children’s Hospital opens.

At Buffalo State, campus visitors can range from prospective students and their parents to sports-camp participants, visiting professors and commencement attendees. Members of the community interact with the campus daily, since it’s located on the northern edge of Elmwood Village, an up-and-coming historic, residential and arts district in Buffalo.

Each visitor has different needs, expectations and abilities. Some may have physical or cognitive limitations. All require the basic elements of thoughtful wayfinding: information prior to their visit (verbal, printed or digital) that’s consistent with simple, legible and relevant information in the built environment.

The information provided to the first-time visitor needs to be short and simple. So the people sharing that information need to understand it, and be able to communicate it effectively. Buffalo State announced the changes on its website with links to maps and outlining the overall concept of the program. The BNMC will help each member institution roll out their internal education programs once final installation is complete by the end of March.

Constant change
When the scope of our work is complete, Corbin Design’s clients need to be able to take the reins. So we’ve prepared each Wayfinding Team with the tools to expand and change the wayfinding systems as needed. On the Buffalo State campus, Corbin Design created a unique system that allows temporary display of messages. This places concise wayfinding information on the directional sign, which benefits the visiting driver and reduces campus clutter.

At BNMC, the firm designed a “priority matrix” tool for wayfinding. Because changes occur continually and space is limited, the matrix helped the wayfinding team determine which destinations appear on each sign type. The criteria, which institutional representatives agreed upon, include the type of institution (research, medical, academic, etc.) and the projected number of annual, first-time visitors. Each destination’s predicted traffic determined its signage priority. These simple, definitive criteria kept the wayfinding logic intact, reduced internal debate and eliminated environmental clutter.


Weather conditions
Everyone knows how much snow falls in the Buffalo/Niagara region; an even bigger issue is damaging wind. Working closely with the project teams, which included campus facility managers and engineers, we helped them select sign fabricators that had the resources and experience to assure long-term safety. Considerations included frost-line depth, wind loads, contact with snow-removal equipment and other factors.
At Buffalo State, we partnered with Popli Design Group to design and assess engineered foundations for each sign location. At BNMC, the sign fabricator subcontracted engineering services and worked closely with the City Engineers to determine the best location for each sign based on wayfinding effectiveness, underground conditions and sightlines.

Final success
A new wayfinding system reflects an organization’s commitment to its visitors. Proactively connecting all forms of visitor communications enabled Buffalo State and the BNMC to implement systems that allow visitors to be informed, empowered and, most importantly, less stressed on campus.
Each client has expressed how wayfinding has changed perceptions of its campus, as well as how people navigate it. And, each institution is equipped with the tools to maintain the information over time, as campus changes occur.
Snow, cold, wind, heat, students, parents, patients … bring ‘em on!




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