Friday, February 8, 2008

Reflections on design

UBC is mostly an example of how not to design buildings. Everything is ugly (inside and out) and only moderately functional. Architecture students and structural engineers should take field trips here to learn what their buildings should never look like.

Today I had to go to a big administrative building to turn in a form. I took the elevator up to the 6th floor and decided to take the stairs down. After passing the third floor, I started seeing signs taped to the wall saying, "Looking for the second floor? Go back downstairs and around to the other stairs." WTF?!?! Who builds a stairwell that doesn't access an entire floor? I didn't even know that was legal! Then when I get to the bottom, the door opens outside into the cold, with no access back inside once the door is closed. How in the world can you encourage people to take the stairs instead of an elevator when you make the stairs inaccessible? This means that even people who only work on the second floor will always take an elevator even though most able-bodied people are willing to walk up one flight of stairs.

Next I went to a classroom in a different building to lead discussion. I soon noticed there was water dripping from the ceiling through a light fixture. This seemed serious to me so I called the urgent number listed by the lightswitch (at least they do have a contact number posted in (nearly?) every room for such things). As soon as I mentioned which building I was in, the woman said, "Oh, we're aware of it. The whole third floor on that building is leaking. Would you like me to find a different classroom for you?" I declined, since the drip was small and wouldn't interfere with class. Still, the whole third floor is leaking? Again, WTF?

I could go on and on about how the buildings are ugly inside, hard to navigate, and have extremely noisy ventilation systems that result in people keeping their doors closed, but I think you get the idea.

I am also frustrated by poor system design and practice. Right now, I am trying very hard to make it easier for everyone in our department to print double-sided. I know that most people print everything single-sided simply because it is a pain in the ass to print double-sided. The options are a slow inkjet, printing odd and even separately and risking a misfeed that messes it all up, or walking to a lab in a different building.

Our department recently got a big, new photocopier. When I worked at Mid-Atlantic Field Station we got one like that and it was networked as a printer. I could print to it from another building and it would automatically print double-sided, staple, collate, and make you dinner (you get the idea). I contacted some people in the department about the possibility of hooking our printer up as a copier, but of course it's no simple task.

The current barriers to increased faculty, staff, and grad student productivity, immense paper savings, and reduced individual printer maintenance are:
1) The printer is leased through some long chain of middlemen, and we currently are not leasing the part that would allow us to network the machine.
2) It will cost more to lease that part, and will incur additional per-page printing costs with increased use as a printer.
3) There is only one ethernet port in the room with the copier, and it is currently used by an old laserjet that only prints one side.

I think I will draft a letter to the department head (who has final say on the decision) to argue convincingly that adding this capability to the printer will be worth the additional cost, even if it doesn't break even on the paper savings. We need to make it easy for people to use less resources in the way we design our policies, practices, systems, and buildings, and I'm desperately trying to make one small change happen in one department. I hope it works.


Paulina said...

Last year our lab was moved to a new location, a brand new location in fact, built in what used to be a storage area in the underground floor of the building. Aside from the fact that we have no windows, AND no place to eat lunch (labs are out of the question, obviously, and the hall way is against fire code), the air flow control thing has been broken since we moved here. That means that we have 80F in our office/lab when we first come in in the morning, at which point we have to go to the office of facilities managers and ask them to reset it. And we have to do that every day! For a year! Why? Why not fix it? And if not fix it, at least reset it every morning without being told to do so?

You are right about double sided printing being difficult. But we just bought a new printer which prints double sided as is not too slow. It's an HP 2605dn I think and it was really inexpensive.

EcoGeoFemme said...

My building is similar. I swear there are stalactites growing from the persistent leaks!

At least you can print single-sided when you want to. I wanted to print a fellowship application for my advisor to sign but there was no paper. Since apparently grad students can't be trusted with paper, I had to get it from a secretary, but she was busy in a meeting. Nice system.