July 9 2020
The Future of Our Cultural Centres
This week, world class cultural centres began to reopen their doors to visitors. During these initial stages of reopening, the venues will appear different to those familiar with them, since all visitors will be required to wear face masks, follow prescribed walking paths, and be required to abide by longer lines as a result of a fairly low cap on the number of visitors permitted inside at once. Closer to home for our Canadian offices, the AGO is also open to members and annual pass holders as of July 2nd, incorporating many of the same mitigation measures mentioned above.
The business model for museums, galleries, and theatres is largely driven by ticket sales and maximizing the amount of patrons who enjoy the space on a regular basis. As we emerge from COVID, the public will want to visit these spaces while those operating them will want to run these centres as efficiently and profitably as possible.
Most cultural centres are located in dense urban areas and they are often accessed via transit, highlighting the many aspects of daily life that need to be considered for us to remobilize our cities. With the above factors taken into account, we expect many centres will have a conservative reopening strategy to mitigate risk as much as possible. In fact, this has already been meted out in the case of The Louvre reopening. Over time, there will be a desire to curtail some of these measures and return to a more profitable, and normal, way of operation, maximizing the amount of visitors once more.
Pedestrian modelling can help to test various mitigation measures and quantify their impact on operations. In this way, it can assist with scenario planning for how we might reimagine the use of our cultural centres, both during the initial reopening and over time as health recommendations evolve. As an example, we have leveraged this technology on a cultural centre that Entuitive worked on, to ensure we had access to the BIM. All model inputs are illustrative and do not represent any plans or anticipated performance levels of the building reflected in the images.
Queues for ticketing and security at many popular cultural centres were already commonplace before COVID, particularly in cities with a strong tourism industry and world class attractions, such as London, UK. On a recent trip to present on mass timber, I visited the British Museum again and was greeted this time by a snaking line throughout the entire front grounds of the museum. In a post-COVID environment, not only will these queues need to be more dispersed to maintain physical distancing, they will also need to visually appear safe and orderly to ensure potential visitors are not diverted.
Different queuing options can be tested to determine if they do, in fact, mitigate proximity. We’ll do this and assess the impact of each option on total processing time for visitors.
Many museums and galleries have small to medium sized theatres that display recurring shows throughout the day. Assuming the building derives some ticket sales from these shows, the current guidance of 2m physical distancing will impact revenue. For standalone theatres, it may not be financially feasible for theatre operations if each show is too sparse to sell a viable amount of tickets due to distancing recommendations. For example, look at this small theatre building. In the first example here, 1 in 8 seats are used, for a utilization of 12.5%. This aligns with other theatre studies showing very sparse theatres with individual seats, but with opportunities for greater capacity depending on how tickets are sold and groups organized.
As we see in the latter two examples, if other seating configurations are utilized, and perhaps enabled with technology solutions that dynamically assign seats based on people who are not required to social distance under current guidelines or recommendations (for example families, or groups of friends who are under their own social circle), the utilization of theatres will increase. Shown below, by dynamically assigning seats based on groups of people that have chosen to be assigned seats together, capacity could increase to close to 50%. The theatre study linked above had an even greater capacity when groups were not confined to being a single row only.
The impact of this is that ingress and egress times may be impacted, which is of particular importance for buildings, such as museums with recurring shows throughout the day, and a desire to maximize how many showings can occur with adequate time in between. Pedestrian modelling can help to inform this time component of theatre operations in a post-COVID environment.
The image below compares the theatre clearance times for a range of occupant loads taking into account physical distancing preferences. While the theatre clearance times are fairly trivial for a theatre and occupant load of this scale, it does allow stakeholders to compare various scenarios to understand how policy or operational changes might impact the user experience.
It may be hard to maintain physical distancing and an efficient flow of people through the spaces as the amount of patrons in the buildings increases from the initial reopening limits. In the case of The Louvre, for example, we know the reopening strategy incorporated prescribed walking paths for visitors. Designated walking paths and directions through the spaces may improve the efficiency of moving patrons through each space while maintaining their comfort levels and without removing from their experience. Suggested standing locations near each piece will allow visitors to spend the time they want with each piece while allowing others to pass by. Again, pedestrian modelling could allow teams to test different movement strategies through a space and quantify the relative performance of each for a range of building capacities.
The video below shows an example of modelling visitor movement through a gallery space with prescribed walkways, capacity limitations, and suggested standing spaces. Multiple strategies could be tested to understand how each impacts the number of visitors that can be accommodated in each gallery accounting for the average time it takes each person (similar to the graph shown in the theatre example), as well as quantify potential risks related to being in close proximity.
Similar to previous modelling studies, visitors in the model turn red when within a set physical distance from another, and in this case their walking path appears on the floor and fades over time to illustrate the overall movement patterns. Future modelling studies could look at incorporating group behaviour, whereby groups within the same social circle move through the space and do not need to maintain physical distancing.
While most attention is currently aimed at safely returning to our offices, finding ways to safely reopen childcare centres and schools, and remobilizing the critical transit infrastructure that supports our cities, we know there is a desire to reopen our cultural centres that breathe so much life into the cities we call home.
Pedestrian modelling is a tool that can quantify a range of mitigation measures to understand their performance ahead of time, as well as their impact on operations. Crucially, we have already started seeing RFPs that ask teams to show how their designs can respond to a post-COVID world, and here too we see pedestrian modelling as a powerful tool and differentiator to quantify these strategies.
It is also important to remember that pedestrian modelling is one tool available to help quantify strategies. The discussion points above have not addressed other key factors such as the operation of air supply and return systems throughout the spaces, accessibility considerations to make sure all visitors can still enjoy the spaces post-COVID, and what changes are required to cleaning, sanitation, and other building specific policies. We look forward to collaborating with teams to solve these multi-faceted challenges while helping to mitigate risk and inform decision making as we reopen our cultural centres.
Matthew Smith is an Associate, Fire & Structural, in our Toronto office. If you’d like to discuss this article further, you can reach out to him here.