Is this design story an urban legend?

When I was in college a professor was trying to impart the importance good user design. He told a story about an architect who would build a facility, but put no sidewalks in. He would just plant grass. Then, after a year had passed, he would come back and put sidewalks where all of the paths were made in the grass, because this would be where the users were walking. It is an interesting story, but I wonder if it is true. Has anyone else heard it and do can you tell me the origin?

It may stem from a true story, but it had definitely acheived urban legend status. I’ve heard it told about the quads at two different colleges.

Well if it isn’t a true story, it’s a shame. It definitely sounds like a good idea.

I remember my mother telling me that about the University of Michigan campus.

At my college we had a twist on this. We had sidewalks already. But most people walked on the grass creating dirt paths.

So in my 2nd year the college put in a sidewalk over the paths. Not all of them but quite a few.

At my college they kept placing sidewalks where there were paths, and every year there would be a new path cut through the grass. Eventually, the entire drill field was concrete, and empty.

Finally, one designer had a bright idea, and pulled up all the sidewalk and replaced it with sod. Soon enough, people were using the drill field again.

The reason was simple: no Virginia Tech Hokie wants to scrape his knuckles on concrete.

They say most of the roads in every town everywhere were originally cow paths and animal paths.
As people and wagons arrive on the scene they follow the path of least resistance and just widen the ruts. Then then towns appear along the roads and it looks like the roads went between the towns.

I think the Romans would object to this last comment - they were planned roads weren’t they, not just following an old cow path.

this is on my wish list :slight_smile:



Any Architect who waited to see where people actually walked, instead of telling them where to walk by his design, simply didn’t pay attention in Arrogant Ego 101.


When I was a boy, my friends and I used to ride our dirt bikes in an unoccupied section of town. If you go there now, you will find a large housing development, and the roads in it paved exactly on the template our bikes made.