Architecture usually resonates with aesthetic visuals and something that is pleasing to the eye. Although this general notion is perceived by many, architecture should be appealing to all the senses and create experiences that can be appreciated with people alike.
What comes to your mind while reading “Architecture for the blind”? Spaces which consist of features that increase one’s audible and tactile senses. Yes, pretty much. Buildings that have been designed particularly for the visually impaired, acoustics, and materials are given the utmost importance. Designing barrier-free spaces and increasing natural lighting seems primal as even individuals with vision impairment are also able to sight colors and lights slightly. Several architects have even incorporated fragrance into their designs to enhance the effect of smell throughout the structure.
1. The Casa Mac House, Vicenza, Italy
How do you modify a house which had been home to a blind lady for 50 years? The team at So & So Studio studied the lady’s routine and movement throughout the house and developed a design, based on the simple glyphic language. The transition from one space to another with the least barriers was essential, which was achieved by removing door thresholds and unnecessary material changes. The architects categorized the daily activities into “nodes” and created a central corridor system connecting the garage, front door, and backyard patio. The central spine of the house eliminated the maze-like structure of regular homes to create a hassle-free simple lifestyle.
These drawings and designs were conveyed to the client using “drawdels”, which are small models that helped the lady to touch and feel the future evolution of her home!
2. The LightHouse for the blind and visually impaired, San Francisco
A 114-year social-services organization that is at the frontline for the training of low-vision individuals, The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired reached out to Mark Cavagnero Associates for their new venture in San Francisco. The spaces include a training room for Braille, retail store, multipurpose room, and offices. Being a center for blind people, there were three focal points considered for designing- materials, acoustics, and lighting!
Factually, 90% of visually-impaired people do have a slight vision which could be hindered by high glare and illumination. Keeping that in mind, soft light with the least brightness and neutral colors are given preference as opposed to bright ones. The public areas have polished concrete while metal transition strips on the floor are used for the demarcation and better understanding of the spaces. Since sound is the most active sensory factor, acoustical treatments like reducing the mechanical sounds and increasing the positive sounds like the sounds of the footsteps are encouraged.
3. Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Mexico
Situated in a town in Mexico with the maximum number of individuals with visual impairment, Iztapalapa is a district where Taller de Arquitectura-Mauricio Rocha architects designed the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. A design developed on three “filters” that run on parallel lines consists of unique functions like cafeterias, touch, and sound gallery, and private courtyards each lying on separate paths. A retaining wall that acts as a sound barrier, creates several courtyards by modifying its shape, height, and orientation. To enhance the five senses for a person walking through, channels of water run along the pathways that act as guidance with their sound. Apart from that, fragrant flowers in the gardens help orient individuals within the complex by being constant sensors.
4. Anchor center for blind children, Denver, USA
A design inspired by all the five senses resulting in a “touch-friendly” building, the Anchor center for blind children created by Davis Partnership is a 15,000 square foot teaching facility in Denver. Created for visually impaired toddlers and preschoolers, this one-story center has classroom pods, the masonry of which is inspired by Braille, leading to an effective play of light and shadow. The classrooms are located along a central spine with penetrations of the northern lights through celestial windows, that are located below the angled roofs. The interiors follow color theory and rose, blue and yellow finishes play around the building in the form of door lights, skylight, and wall sconces. Relatively clean and free of barriers, the spaces allow kids to explore without the fear of injury and have features that can guide them throughout the spatial form.
5. South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Aberdeen, SD.
An entire campus designed as a “learning lab” for visually impaired students between the age of 3 and 22, the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has numerous classrooms, dormitories, recreation, and therapy facilities. Designed by Dekker Perich Sabatini architects, the interiors and exteriors have been developed to reduce clutter and encourage sensory wayfinding which supports their expanded core curriculum. For young adults, technological features like real-world navigation facilities are incorporated to promote independence and self-sustainability. The campus includes a sensory garden as well consisting of playgrounds, bike track, and athletic fields. They have been designed with naturalistic orientation and free mobility options which were consulted with the SDSBVI staff and also the LEED management.
6. The Friendship Park, Montevideo
An inclusive park created for people irrespective of their cognitive abilities comprises features that enhance one’s tactile, audible, and aromatic experiences. Divided into six sectors including children’s games, amphitheater, and recreational areas, this 3500 square meter park is barrier-free with unique conceptual developments. For people with vision strains, the park has horizontal and vertical textured surfaces promoting tactile experiences. For the audible experiences, a waterfall that generates a particular sound creating an acoustical map contributing to the playful microclimate is included along with musical games like drums and xylophone. Aromatic flowers and plants add to the overall sensory feel, enabling a person to experience the space in all forms and notions. Material selection for the park has been carefully by using reinforced concrete, metal, and rubber in specific zones.
7. Hazelwood School, Glasglow, UK
A school for kids with acute disabilities like vision and hearing impairment along with mobility difficulties, Alan Dunlop Architects designed the building in a parkland setting. An aim to maximize natural light and include visual, sound, and tactile features, the school consists of long corridors. To navigate the kids throughout the structure without obstacles, walls cladded with cork which has tactile qualities have been used in abundance which also contributed to the concept of trail rail. Huge celestial windows that increase the levels of natural lighting ensure ample distribution of light in the spaces. The location of the classrooms on the site is on the quiet northern edge overlooking the play spaces. Including the existing trees and landscape, the building is curved and stepped sitting on the beautiful peaceful landscape.
8. Maryland School for the Blind, Baltimore, MD
A 96-acre educational complex for the blind, the Maryland School for the Blind comprises two buildings one of which was developed in the 1970s and the new building has been designed by Marshall Craft Associates, a Baltimore based architecture firm. As the name suggests, the school has been conceptualized and equipped for the visually impaired. For individuals with low vision, loud noises and sounds prove to be disturbing, hence there are bulletin boards all along the corridors to curb the excessive sound and enhance the spaces acoustically. Since people with low vision can slightly visualize colors, the school is color-coded to help them associate the place with colors and get accustomed to the spaces. Along with that, there are full height storefronts along the exterior to maximum natural lighting. This program aims to promote readiness for pupils age 5 to 22 on a growing campus.
9. National Institute for the Blind, Budapest, Hungary
Designed for kids for visual disabilities and mental disorders, A4 Studio designed an inclusive structure connected to an old building via a bridge. The ultimate goal was to create a user-friendly building exposed to ample natural light using unique methods. To ensure the maximum natural light, the orientation of blinds has been thought of intricately, and to reduce the effect of the strong transmission, perforated metal sheets have been used. These sheets are placed in front of large glass surfaces and also have words engraved in Braille which read “trust, home, shelter, and love”. With funding from Azerbaijan and Hungary, several more types of perforations designed by artistic companies for this rehabilitation center.
10. Dialogue in the Dark Bukchon, Seoul, South Korea
An experiential center located in Hanok Village; the Dialogue in the Dark is an exhibition curated for people to experience spaces using their senses except for vision. Creating darkness, there are features like that represent nature which creates an experience through sounds and fragrances. The people walking throughout the structure have to use their other senses and memories. An exterior stairway that connects the various spaces and runs along with the floating dark room, rests over a vertical garden. This stairway gets wider while going down and narrower while walking up along the garden which consists of tiny mountains and valleys. The Dialogue in the Dark is an awareness exhibition conducted in many countries of the world to increase tolerance towards people with vision impairment.
Reception of the Dialogue in the dark. ©www.archdaily.com