Tuesday, 16 March 2010

assignment 4


During our recent trip to London we had to use the underground to get about. This is something I had never experienced before so was a little apprehensive about it especially when the station closest to our hotel was Russell Square; the site of the bombings in 2005.

As a group of 20 students arriving at the station at rush hour on the Monday evening, I straight away noticed that everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing and the rituals that took place. Business men in their black pinstripe suits and briefcase in hand strode past, swiped a card onto the machine and lined themselves up at one of the lifts getting prepared to go deep under the streets of London. It took us a while to work out the zones, peak times, how much the tickets were and then how to work the machines to get a ticket. Thankfully pretty soon were swiping our tickets with everyone else and ventured towards the lifts. In Russell Square station, there are lifts that take you down to the platforms although I soon realised this isn’t always the case.

While waiting for everyone else to get their tickets, I had a while to stand and watch what was going on, how everyone knew which lift was coming next and the system that appeared to be very efficient in getting everyone down to the platform. As it was peak time there was an operator/assistant there ensuring that everyone knew which lift was coming next and he was manually pushing buttons and twisting knobs, closing the doors of the lifts and making them go up and down faster. The lift doors opened, as the group of people coming up from the platform to the station moved out of the front set of doors, those waiting moved into the lift through a back set of doors. Everyone automatically moved right to the front, knowing that another person was soon going to move right into their personal space. I could sense that people were preparing themselves for this to happen, it was nearly like they had a gasp of their own fresh air before going into the lift and sharing it with everyone else. Eventually we joined this man/penguin style rush onto the lift. I automatically felt myself joining in with the crowd straight away, heading straight towards the opposite end of the lift, ensuring that I as far forward as possible so that everyone could cram on. At this point I noticed the silence that struck as soon as the lift started moving down to the platform. Everyone stared straight ahead of them avoiding eye contact, or looking at the posters on the walls, the same ones as they probably pretend to be very interested in everyday, just to avoid catching someone else’s eye unintentionally. I found this really interesting, an unspoken ritual and rule that everyone obeyed to. But found myself wondering why this occurs? Why don’t people look around, look at what other people are doing, wearing, reading etc? Or why don’t people even make eye contact or smile at each other?

Once out of the lift and down to the platform everyone joined in with the trot like pace through the tunnels to the platform edge. Within no time there was a strange gush of humid air flowing through the platform and a tube appeared. Again, we joined with the crowd making a mad dash for the nearest door, at all times remaining silent. I find it strange that is it so silent, that while on these journeys when the majority of people are travelling alone no one speaks to each other even just to make their journey a little more interesting or pass a little quicker. As a group of students on the train we obviously spoke to each other while trying to work out which station we should get off at, how many more stops there were to go etc. I automatically found myself discussing the rules and regulations that appear to happen on the underground with my classmates. We had all noticed the same thing and were all experiencing this strange silence in which we felt we were breeching by speaking to each other while on the tubes and noticed people looking at us. There was a few other small groups of people having discussions, the majority of these seemed to be business chat or some groups of girls discussing their weekends events but the high majority of people were staring at the person opposites feet or again, pretending to be very interested in the same poster as they were very interested in on the lift. We soon became used to this experience through using the tubes on a very regular basis. We were travelling on the trains about 6 or 8 times a day and visiting many different stations in the process. We gradually found ourselves not finding it as strange, and breaking off into smaller groups to travel. The first few times we went onto the tubes I noticed very few of us actually sitting on any of the seats, even when there were some available. We tended to stay standing near the doors. I think that this was due to being unsure as to when to get off or how close our station was, but I think there was also a sense of apprehension; not being sure of the person that could be sitting next to you. As we started to use the trains more, some of us ventured to sit on a seat, especially if there was a few together. This was a slightly strange experience and found myself wondering why the seats are designed to face each other. The already awkward situation of looking straight into some bodies eyes is somewhat exaggerated when sitting down, it’s harder to find other places to look other than their feet.

We visited many different stations throughout our time in London. I noticed that each has their own characteristics that made them distinct. This varied from starting to recognise the different kinds of escalators or the amount of swipe machine/gates to the street performer in the designated place at the bottom of the escalators in Leister Square. One that was very different from the others was Westminster; when the tube pulled up at the platform there is a Perspex screen that goes right along the length of the platform with doors that open at the exactly the same place as the doors of the tube. Initially I thought this was an attempt to try and prevent suicide attempts but I then noticed the amount of metal around. Every wall was covered in metal, the floors were metal and the roof also. I felt an instant sense of security and safety here. In other stations I had always felt on edge and unsure of those around me but I felt a lot safer here. The girls I was along with at this point also agreed. We got off the train looking about and commenting on all the different safety factors that were in place here, working out that it is probably due to being so close to the houses or parliament. I then wondered why it wasn’t like this at all stations, especially with the current bombing attacks?!

Throughout our time in London I really enjoyed spending time ‘people watching’, especially on the tubes. I found it really interesting thinking about all the different factors and rituals that took place and wondering how or when these started to come about or if they had always been in place? I noticed a big difference in the London lifestyle to the Scottish one and found this to be an interesting and important factor when designing. I think it is highly important to experience what you are designing for, especially in interiors. This is the only way of really getting to know the lifestyle of the client and getting an understanding into their way of thinking, rituals and ways.

1 comment:

  1. I took some students to London last year including some Scottish ones who'd never been, some Koreans and one from India.
    We went on the underground and the Scottish students largely knew what to do because they'd seen it on TV, though they couldn't work the ticket machines. The Korean students had no problem - it was a bit antiquated maybe compared to what they were used to, but they "got it".
    The Indian student, however, got left behind, had to be shown how to put his ticket in the slot, and then left it in there so had to buy another one!
    What was "funny" was not that he didn't know how to use the underground, but that I had forgotten what it was like the first time, and assumed everyone would know. That day I got a bit of a culture shock and realised I had to stop making assumptions. It would be easy to say this student was from a "backward" place but that wasn't it at all. It was that the rituals and rules were foreign.

    (Once in London I had to show some Americans what to do then realised we were all used to chip and pin, but their cards didn't have them so were effectively useless in the ticket machine. However there were no instructions for tourists - odd, given that it's London.

    I had a similar experience in China last year trying to use their subway, but also trying to use a supermarket, order in Starbucks, get in to a museum... it wasn't the language that was the barrier so much as the "ritual"...