I Love to Get High: A Critique of the Design of Observation Spaces

Session: Track C: Towers and the Challenge of Context: Heritage

Terri Meyer BoakeProject image

Terri Meyer Boake
Full Professor, University of Waterloo

There is something exhilarating about being at a great height and feeling the breeze on your face. The urban equivalent of mountain climbing. Some daring? Some fear? The observation areas of sightseeing platforms of tall structures have one basic function, from the perspective of the participant. Yet the design of these spaces has taken on an increasingly monetary drive over the years, which has impacted the previously successful simplicity of the function. In contemporary use, photography has become pervasive and many of the material choices have negatively impacted this pursuit.

This presentation provides a critique of the design of observation spaces by taking a critical look at the materiality and space planning of a wide range of international projects, addressing issues such as distance from the ground: Is higher actually better? What climate considerations should there be for indoor versus outdoor viewing areas? How does the design of the fall protection impact the immediacy of the view?

Historic towers used clear glass, but sustainability has driven the use of spectrally selective materials, which, though energy-efficient, impact the coloration of the view. The occupant’s distance from the glass and its angle impact the ability to look down and take photos. And what about the selfie? How does the design of the space, materiality, choice of glazing, impact the ability to take photos? This includes issues of reflections from lighting and coloration of spectrally selective glazing. Better understanding of material choices can lead to better user experiences.