“I woke up with soothing morning sunlight right on my face at around 6 a.m. Stepping down from the bed, I leaned out of the window to feel the fresh breeze of the morning. The stonecrete wall to my right side guided me to the bathroom. The textured tiles felt like acupuncture to my toes. Ah! It felt good! Dressed up and I am ready to go out for a walk now. Wait! Where is my walking stick? Five steps to my left side from the main automated sliding door, I reached out to my companion that lay there on a wooden shelf. Walking fifteen steps on a grass lawn, I could now hear the urban chaos, amidst which I sometimes wish I could ‘see’ the beauty of nature. I rather ‘feel’ the beauty and all thanks to the designers who believe in universal design.”
“Architecture for the blind is like any other architecture, only better”– Christopher Meyer
This article explores a universal design approach towards urban design as well as for all the public buildings. People with disabilities are more sensitive to their built-environment and hence, it is the designers’ responsibility to create such spaces using ingenious materials and design techniques.
Sight is the most significant sense of all, with which we perceive almost everything around us. But, how would you design for people without vision? They practice living within their context by analyzing various sounds, textures, and smells.
“We’re used to thinking of design as being a visual process. But really, the design is an intellectual process, and the visual dimension is a tool to aid in that. It’s one way of getting information, but it’s not the only way”, says Chris Downey in a talk at the AIA San Francisco in 2010. Chris Downey, a San-Francisco based architect, lost his eyesight following a surgical operation. He has continued to practice architecture applying his other senses to his designs. In the absence of visuals, all the other senses become actively involved for a blind person to perceive any space. “Typically, 80% of our sensory experience is visual, because it’s so much quicker. The remaining 20% is non-visual. But 100% of the ‘design’ tends to be all about the visual,” said Downey.
We always wonder how they navigate the outside world when we see them walk alongside us, isn’t it? It’s because of the textures on the pavements, the fountains at the cross-roads, the fragrance of the garden close-by and other acoustics and tactile variations that help them communicate the directions. But, have you ever helped any blind cross the road? If yes, then it is the sign that we need to design our streets much better.
The use of textured materials for sensory reach, the unhindered pathways, use of efficient light and shadow are few of the key elements to be kept in mind. Safety is the most important factor that a designer must take care of while designing for blinds. The image below shows a few of the design elements that must be incorporated in our universal urban designs-
Architecture and Interior
Facing the inner world is as challenging as facing the outside world, in terms of living within the space. House is an intimate space where we spend most of our day engaging ourselves in various in-house activities. Designing a space for people without vision is very challenging for an architect. I recently came across an on-going project on Instagram; a school for visually impaired children located at Gandhinagar, designed by the well-known architecture firm- SEALAB of Ahmedabad.
In this particular case, users themselves are involved in the process of making of the place where they are educating the designers, the sensitivity of life they wish to live.
Charmi Savani, who did a detailed study on architecture for people with visual disability during her Design Thesis on Blind school at Junagadh, shares a few of her conclusive diagrams, that might help us look forward to while designing a livable space for the blinds-
The above diagrams represent the various design solutions required to create an effective built-environment for blind people. Every minute detail should be well thought and well-designed keeping in mind the user typology.
Have you ever noticed this one? It was a piece of knowledge for me today!
Let us design sensitively!