Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chis Downey- An Architect Who Lost His Sight

By Alicia Luthy

Hello everyone! This week I have been further researching my thesis topic. Within my topic I am creating an educational center for the dual sensory impaired, also known as “deafblind.” There are different degrees of sight and hearing impairments. Some people are born with it and others can acquire the impairment at different stages and different levels of severity. Within my design I want to create a great architectural experience with a strong connection to the senses. This design should not only educate the impaired students but also give them confidence to carry out daily routines. While researching I came across someone that is not only impaired, but is also a designer for the impaired.
Christopher Downey is an architect, planner, and consultant that lost his sight. In 2008, on St Patrick’s Day, Chris Downey went in to have a brain tumor removed. The surgery was successful but three days later he lost his vision. He enjoyed 20 years of practice on award-winning custom residences and cultural institutions before he had lost his sight. Downey now works as a member of user engagement team, designer, or client representative. He uses his own experience to enhance the design with more consideration of tactility, touch, smell, temperature, sounds, and new technologies. Downey states that architecture for the blind is like any other architecture, only better. The architecture looks the same and works the same but offers a stronger involvement of the senses. Chris Downey has completed many projects in healthcare, transportation, and others. Some of his projects consist of the Duke University Eye Center Clinic, the Transbay Transit Center, and the Associated Blind Housing.  Downey is not only a designer but also a lecturer. He teaches accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. If interested in listening to one of his TED talks here is a link:
In this lecture he describes an experience that he had while being blind. He also answers what a city for the blind would be like. He states that cities are fantastic places for the blind. The blind have a positive influence on the city itself. Similar to what I am studying, he says that he has opened up to all the other non-visual senses. From this information I learned different ways for navigations for the impaired such as textured pathways, the way the sun hits the skin gives you alignment, and the sense of smell. Often with vision, we seem to take for granted some of the non-visual senses.  Chris Downey says “If you design a city with the blind in mind you will have walkable networks of sidewalks, sidewalks will be predictable and generous. The space between buildings will be well balanced between people and cars. If you design a city with the blind in mind there will be lots of jobs.” Designing with the blind in mind can improve any design and not just a building for the impaired themselves. 

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