Joint research project

Cultural Heritage: Modelling the challenge to visitor flow in specific historic buildings

Project leaders
Michela Mortara, Arthur David Stewart
REGNO UNITO - RSE - The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland)
CNR/RSE biennio 2019-2020 (SCOZIA) 2019-2020
Engineering, ICT and technologies for energy and transportation
Thematic area
Engineering, ICT and technologies for energy and transportation
Status of the project

Research proposal

This study will address public safety in historic buildings by combining visitor-flow research and gaming approaches developed by the applicants. In Scotland and Italy, tourism represents 5% and 13% of GDP respectively [1,2], and national tourism strategies have prioritised the visitor experience [3]. Across cultural heritage annual visitation has increased 7% in the UK1 and 12.5% in Italy [4], reaching 20% in some Scottish locations. Such pressure (4.2m in the Colosseum, 2m in Edinburgh Castle) diminishes the visitor experience, increases safety risk, and is ultimately unsustainable. Greater numbers of visitors increase crowd density, reduce flow-rate [5], and increase evacuation time [6]; however, archaic configurations, narrow passageways and steep staircases compound these difficulties. This is particularly the case in configurations involving domes, for example the Duomo in Florence, where narrow stair access and prolonged restricted width on an elevated walkway. Body size and impaired mobility profoundly influence movement speed, and in restricted/challenging spaces become critical to individual and group movement, directly affecting the quality of the visit were queuing is prevalent, or passing is not feasible, and dramatically increasing evacuation time in an emergency situation [7]. The observational and data-driven simulation approach proposed by the applicants is the only feasible way to model this to identify critical factors. Financial pressure on operators to cater to the demand of increased visitation renders it impossible to use such sites for research experimentation using live individuals. Simulation can accommodate a range of factors and attributes into modelling movement, flow and time to reach safety in an evacuation. This research partnership will extend previous work commenced with a simple Neolithic burial chamber to more complex buildings which have higher visitation and will use serious gaming approaches. The result will be a greater understanding of the critical factors affecting safety, which will inform our understanding of building capacity. Such research is vital to understand the resilience and vulnerabilities of historic buildings in the face of significantly increased visitor numbers, and to assist operational staff to manage and optimise visitor flow.

This project will deliver urgently-required knowledge of visitor movement in restricted spaces directly impacting safety across the tourist industry. Congestion in historic buildings detracts from the visitor experience, and although it is not a new problem, elevated risks result from increased visitation, increased typical and extreme body-size [8] (resulting from global obesity) and reduced speed/agility [9] (resulting from the burgeoning seniors' tourism). It is difficult to confront visitors about their size and weight, and most historic buildings expect visitors to self-regulate. However, this approach could lead to greater risks for heavier and less healthy individuals not only moving slowly, but requiring assistance in remote locations within a building. Serious gaming is an appropriate way of conveying the challenge of this issue without stigmatising individuals. Instead, digital characters can be sized to different percentages of the host population, and adjusted to create the exact demographic and ethnic mix of groups visiting a particular location.

Non-normal visitor movement (e.g. medical evacuation, fire, weapon/chemical attack) cannot be empirically tested. Understanding such 'what-if' eventualities mandates historic building codes (which assume ambulatory individuals of modest size) to be superseded using contemporary demographics (visitor nationality, body size and age) to create accurate representations. As well as basic locomotion, these will be enriched with hand-carried items, and behaviours such as inspection, random observation, stationary observation and photography. The tools we will create directly generate data which identify limitations to movement (bottlenecks), capacity and time-to-safety in an evacuation, and can be applied to any historic building to assist operators maximise the visitor experience while reducing risk. The gaming approach proven as a valuable educational tool can also be used to inform operators regarding safety by directly illustrating the effects of the different parameters. This challenging research field will be directly targeted by future research efforts arising from this project, addressing the criticality of visitor numbers and pathways using a contemporary demographic.

1. Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (2018). visited 20/6/18
2. The Scottish Government (2018) visited 20/6/18
3. The Scottish Tourism Alliance (2018). TS2020 Mid Term Review visited 20/6/18
4. The Local (2017). visited 20/6/18
5. Still, G. K. (2013). Introduction to Crowd Science. London: CRC Press ISBN 978-1-4665-7964-4.
6. AlShboul, A.A. & Al-Tahat, M.D. (2007). Modelling of public building evacuation processes. Architectural Science Review, 50, 37-43.
7. Stewart, A., Elyan, E., Isaacs, J. McEwen, L. & Wilson, L. The effect of person order on egress time: a simulation model of evacuation from a Neolithic visitor attraction. Human Factors, 59, 1222-1232. Doi: 10.1177/0018720817729608
8. Strum, R. & Hattori, A. (2013). Morbid obesity rates continue to rise rapidly in the United States. International Journal of Obesity, 37, 889-891.
9. Jang, S., Bai, B. & Wu, C, E. (2009). Affect, travel motivation, and travel intention: A senior market. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 33, 51-73.

Research goals

o To observe pedestrian flow in challenging visitor pathways at key historic locations (e.g., including spires, domes and crypts. Workpackage 1 will involve visitation by Scottish and Italian parties to selected locations to acquire information regarding visitation numbers, demographics, visitor paths, etc.
o To identify barriers and enablers to movement. Workpackage 2 will considers the specifics of the visitor pathway, as experienced, augmented by photography as appropriate to create a taxonomy of 'labels' for 'fixed' challenges to movement, such as narrow wall separation, low ceiling, steep staircase, and 'situational' such as pressure of numbers, queue behaviour, photography behavior etc.
o To compare visitor behaviour between sites and cultures in terms of movement characteristics, crowding and control measures. Workpackage 3 will result from the researchers' analysis of the perceived risk and observed safety measures.
o To augment and enrich existing models and visualisations. Workpackage 4 will yield the basis to develop the existing Scottish model with gaming approaches from Italy, adding more variety in terms of individual characters, individual behaviours and crowd density, and more complex building layouts. These developments will lay the foundation for a major grant application to validate the approach and deploy the model with operators, to demonstrate visitor flow, and model variability in numbers and changed demographic mix or circumstances.

Last update: 27/11/2021