“Where’s the entrance?” is a question you ask yourself mentally each time you approach a building with which you are not familiar. We all do it, and some of us are more vocal about it, because the question is often stated as an insult, implying, “Why the hell can’t they make it easier for people to find the entrance?”
There’s a certain degree of embarrassment in not knowing how to get into a building. The entrance to the beautiful Vancouver Public Library is not on its exterior. It’s actually inside, between two buildings slammed together with a small mall tucked between them. Once you go into the mall, it’s still not apparent that you are in the right place. You can see all the books through the glass, but you have to continue searching for the entrance, which turns out to be a little bride across a chasm. When it was first built, people were walking around the entire building looking for the entrance.
This happens quite often. In suburbia in any major city, the front of many buildings have their front doors closed. Nearly no one walks in these places. Everyone drives. So the front entrance is never used by anyone coming down the sidewalk. The back entrance is used because that is where everyone parks. Often a piece of paper will be taped to the interior side of the glass with the line, “Please use back doors.” And have you ever had to climb a fence to find an entrance?
The library in Westmount, Montreal is beautiful. The front door is not only beautifully decorated so you know where it is – with columns, a grand little staircase and relief sculptures, but it actually tells you that it is a library. The carvings say so. And not only that but there are images of books carved into the relief. Fantastic! Not only do you get beauty, but function and common sense. There’s no question of where the entrance is.
Now, pretend you are a tourist coming to Thunder Bay. How many entrances to buildings are difficult to find and how many are easy? What side of the building is it on and does it make sense?
The new design of the Wallmart is a bit frustrating when you can’t see the entrance for the first time. If you didn’t know better, along Memorial, Intercity’s back should be its front and the entrance is Sportmart, or that little side door next to it – you know, the one that leads to the long hallway that is hidden by the food court. Victoriaville looks like it’s getting an overhaul. But it’s low hanging roof, which is dark and ugly doesn’t communicate the message that there’s much inside. A tall glass front with decoration might do a better job. The big sign helps, but not much.
The point is, beauty and decoration have a function. The art is not pointless. It has reason and common sense to it. And not only that, it can create a sense of awe. This is important because it is the defining factor that gives buildings status. Places of worship need to create that awe because they are attempting to express ideas and principles much bigger in scope than an insurance company. Movie theatres have grand entrances because the people displayed on the screen, bigger than life, have become for many, the new gods. They are made so by their size. We stare up at movie stars in awe.
And places that we congregate, the shopping malls, markets, auditoriums, theatres, etc., can welcome us, pay respect to us, by being bold and grand and placed on a side of a building that doesn’t confuse us.