Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thesis: The Architectural Problem

Now that I finally have an ENTIRE day to myself, I think it's about time I started showing this blog some love. This year has been crazy with job and school and more school, and then more school on top of that. This has been such a formative year for me, with my summer experience in Namibia giving real confidence in my ability as a designer. And I just realize that I did not write a single post about it. Dang. Ok. Alright, you know what, fine. I'm releasing everything, this entire thesis. There will be pictures, there will be videos, there will be generalizations and there will probably be a couple of nuggets of social commentary. It's gonna be great. Are you ready? I'm ready.


Two bus patrons at Peninsula Towne Center
My thesis all started with me. I'm a college student in Hampton, Virginia with no car. This means that I need to either ask all of my friends with cars for a ride, or ride the bus. Since friends have their own schedules most of the time, I prefer to ride the bus. Based on my previous posts detailing riding the HRT, you can see that it can be a somewhat complicated process, and I consider myself something of an expert user. I've used the bus to go to work, do shopping, go to job interviews, and even dates. But have you ever tried riding the bus in the summer? Most of the stops don't even have benches, and the ones that do have metal, which is like sitting on a stove on a hot summer day. And the shelters are built like green houses, with glass and metal trapping in heat like a microwave. If you were inside you baked, and if you were outside, you still baked. Winter was not much better, with no shelter whatsoever at some stops. The shelters did at least give you the comfort of sitting while you froze. Clearly, these are less than ideal conditions. 


Bus stop schedule board in Hampton
Equally important is the aspect of visibility. I have personally waited for over 30 minutes for a bus, only to have it drive right past me. I've had to wait for 45 minutes for a bus, not knowing how soon or late it is coming. And to some, that might not seem like a big deal, but combine that with the conditions I've described above, and the picture becomes, if possible,  even more unpleasant. Making sure that passengers and buses can see each other is very important. A facet of this is safety, as lighting and increased surrounding visibility can reduce crime. There can also be emergency notifications built into the bus stops. You can actually find these systems already on college campuses and in certain retail parking lots. So I feel that visibility is more than just being able to physically see the bus, it's also about being able to see around you, knowing when the buses are coming, and maintaining safe spaces for people to wait. 

At bus stops you expect to see a bus schedule, that will tell you when the next bus is coming. Not so in Hampton. Instead, their schedules tell you how often the buses are coming and their hours of operation. Which can be useful, but only if you know exactly how long ago the last bus was. Without that information, the schedule is completely useless. And in places where buses only  operate every 30 minutes to an hour, people would often rather just leave than have to wait a half hour or more to see if they can catch the next bus. 

You can, of course, check the next bus on your phone. Bus routes can be found at and you can find an entire detailed travel itinerary by using the public transportation option on Google Maps. You can even call H.R.T. to find the next bus at your stop (make sure you know the intersection). However, without a phone, all of that becomes impossible. Phones with internet capabilities are infamous for being battery drainers, and even regular phones can die at inopportune moments. This can leave you stranded mid-trip with no information. Nowadays, people often don't wear watches and keep time using their phones, so even if you knew the bus times from memory, you still wouldn't know how how soon the next bus is once your phone dies. 


But how will you power all these functions? Bus shelters can be very expensive upwards of $3000 per individual shelter. Including these additional but necessary functions of visibility, from schedules, notification systems, and lighting all need electricity to power them. In a move to make these stops more self-sufficient, I am proposing that they be solar powered. We have seen this implemented on a wide scale in San Francisco, with their city-wide shelters coming with solar panels on top. 

Architects and designers from all over the world have come up with innovative concepts, some experimenting with novel forms, others trying to stuff as much tech into it as possible (looking at you, MIT), and then others going for the straight whimsical (looking at you, Japan). But none of these solutions are truly trying to deal with these problems from the three areas of shelter, visibility, and power all combined in one design. And that is what I aim to do with my thesis.
My next post will deal with specific bus stops and solutions from all over, trying to see their successes and failures. 

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