Perspectival Shift at La Maison de Radio France

The Maison de Radio France is one of the most spectacular buildings in Paris. Built by architect Henry Bernard, it opened in 1963 and is host to the French state radio broadcaster. The shape of the building – its main feature – dominates a good stretch of the Right Bank. It is a tall, round building, 500m in circumference. Five hundred meters.

Here comes an interesting problem. The building has six entrances, labeled A to F, evenly spaced. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. In many occasions these are hurried guests that have to reach a studio for an interview, on air at precise times. Suppose now that you, one of those guests, are requested to enter from door F, and that your taxi dropped you in front of door E. You are facing the building. Where would you go? Right or left? (The next door is more than 80 meters away from where you are.)

Small piece of reasoning… “Alphabetic series are is consistently displayed in left-to-right order. First E, then F. F is to the right of E”

So you go right.

Just to hit entrance D.
Now you are 160 meters from entrance F, and you are running out of time.

The diagnosis is all too simple. Entrance labeling was done on the plan, looing at the building from heaven, and using as a model the clock. The letters are neatly disposed clockwise, A in the South, B and C in the West, and the rest accordingly, back to A. No attention was paid to the actual uses of the building, no attempt was made to put oneself in the shoes of the user, in taking the user’s spatial perspective on the building. A single, three-second gesture, the time to write down letters on a plan, conditions the life of millions, and generates time losses on an unimaginable scale.

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