Moving Visitors Through Historic Canalside

September 28, 2017


Canalside is a 21-acre property on downtown Buffalo’s waterfront which attracts tourists and residents year-round and lies at the terminus of the historic Erie Canal. It is an important place in shipping and trading history dating back to 1825 before there were any railroads in the United States, and also has a rich history of technical innovation in the grain and masonry trades. Canalside is adjacent to attractions such as the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, KeyBank Center, Haborcenter, and a major destination for history, recreation and entertainment. This property benefits from a revitalization that has added a plethora of events, family activities, programs, cultural engagement opportunities, restaurants, public art and historic interpretive installations, sports and entertainment venues and hotels.

With the growing popularity of this waterfront attraction, Canalside required a placemaking and wayfinding program that would enable visitors to learn about its important history, find out about current programming and events and, most importantly, to navigate through this complex area with confidence and ease. One of the ongoing major challenges has been for visitors to locate the (abundantly available) parking in the area and to make their way to and from the site.

Our mission was to develop an efficient wayfinding system, while also expressing the unique Canalside brand, and presenting the significant history of the site. Our scope included site identification signage, directional information both inside and leading into the site, historical interpretive panels and programming information displays.

We assessed the site, developing comprehensive circulation plans for all modes of transportation (vehicular, pedestrian, transit, and bicycle) to identify locations for signage elements. As Canalside is a very dense area with thousands of activities per year, one of our strategies was to consolidate information on ‘totems’, making signage locations multifunctional and greatly reducing the number of signs required. Integrated LCD displays, with dynamic content responding to Canalside’s daily activities, also play a role in this strategy.

The look and feel of the wayfinding program draws upon the history and cultural significance of Canalside as well as its newly refreshed brand. The historical relevance informed our material selections, such as: wood fabrication and fastening systems that recall Canalside’s history, integrated with contemporary elements and design details. We were also inspired by contemporary activities that occur at Canalside, including sailing and boating, which inspired the forms and language of the signs. Colour choices utilized Canalside’s existing graphic standards to maintain consistency of branding and presentation to the public throughout the site. The overall look and feel is fresh, exciting, and easily legible.

Currently the program is in the early prototyping stage and we are projecting complete rollout of the signage assets in time for next summer’s season. For more information on Canalside, see here.