Emergency exits are one of the most basic but fundamental elements of architectural safety a building can provide. This is why countries all over stipulate a number of exit routes in their building code. For a large, maze-like space like the NYUAD art center, this flow of bodies becomes all the more important in getting people out to safety before it’s too late. Unfortunately, the nature of crisis design means that its full function is not revealed until the crisis hits. This is only worsened by the fact that the same building codes that require design for safety allow it to be realized in a way that negates safety. This particular emergency exit is a prime example of what is lost between code and practice.
The primary issue with this doorway lies in its traffic flow. In an emergency, persons inside the building come from all directions, symbolized by the red arrows. In a chaotic situation an orderly line, while ideal, is unlikely, and the multiple streams of people have the potential to create a bottleneck at the door.
This alone is less significant without the multidirectional traffic of zones A and B. The red zone A denotes the area of traffic flow out of the building.The green zone B denotes the extinguisher and fire hose that will require immediate access by firefighters. As you can see, the two zones overlap. Not only is outgoing traffic in the way of the equipment, but firefighters will have to obstruct the exit pathway to reach the fire. The three green arrows represent the movement of the firefighters and equipment back and forth from the place of storage.
Apart from this, there are several other problems that contribute to the inefficiency of this exit. The first door leads to a vestibule that connects yet another stream of exit-ers via the stairway before the final exit to the outside. The vestibule lighting is triggered by a motion sensor that is slow to react, sealing the space in chaos-inducing darkness until it decides to turn on. It is possible that some will run into the back of the stairway in the darkness. The final door is quite slim and creates yet another bottleneck, this time with the two streams of people coming from inside and descending down the stairs.
The signage directing traffic towards the door is also small and difficult to follow, which presents a problem before people even arrive at the troublesome corner exit.