Canalside is a 21-acre property on downtown Buffalo’s waterfront which attracts tourists and residents year-round. The site lies at the terminus of the historic Erie Canal. It is an important place in shipping and trading history dating back to 1825 before 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.

In honour of the 150th anniversary of the Erie Canal, 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.

We assessed the site, developing comprehensive circulation plans for all modes of transportation (vehicular, pedestrian, transit, and bicycle) to identify locations for signage elements. A study of vistior and user personas was also completed and used as the basis for design development. We worked with the Canalside History Committee formed by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation the on the interpretive program for the site.

Our challenge 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, multi-modal directional information both inside and leading into the site, historical interpretive panels and programming information displays. 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 signage design merges history and contemporary appeal with material selections and finishes such as wood fabrication and fastening systems that recall Canalside’s history. The forms, colours, and visual language of the signs are linked to the new brand look & feel but also inspired by activities such as sailing and boating, both part of today’s active Canalside. Overall, the complete family of signage products is fresh, exciting, and highly legible.

Photography: Lisa Logan