A vision to endure

Submitted by digital on Tue, 09/15/2015 - 18:42
{"version":"0.3.0","atoms":[],"cards":[],"markups":[["em"],["strong"],["a",["href","https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/watch?v=zrtfXDk0L8A","target","_new"]],["a",["href","http:\/\/www.amazon.com\/The-Eyes-Skin-Architecture-Senses\/dp\/1119941288","target","_new"]],["a",["href","http:\/\/www.smithgroupjjr.com\/","target","_new"]],["i"]],"sections":[[1,"h2",[[0,[],0,"Chris\nDowney, AIA, taps into the fundamentals of design without sight"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[0],1,"Filippo Brunelleschi"],[0,[1,0],2," "],[0,[0],1,"changed the way architects see and, importantly, how they record what they see. We can, more or less, credit him for the vanishing point in drawing\u2014a watershed moment in measuring depth and creating perspective. Since the 15th century, it\u2019s been in the nature of perspectival drawing\u2014and, indeed, architecture\u2014to be able to precisely depict a building\u2019s relationship to a landscape. Perspective\u2014be it two-point or three-point, foreshortened or axonometric\u2014has become a foundational concept in architecture that hinges entirely on the ability to see. Take away sight, and perspective seems to vanish with it. And, as logic would follow, the promise of practicing architecture seems to vanish, as well."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[0],0,"The case of "],[0,[2],1,"Chris Downey, AIA"],[0,[],1,", who has been blind since 2008, turns this logic on its head, and the ability to have perspective is, well, a matter of perspective rather than rule. Yes, he can review construction drawings with his fingers using a special CAD program that prints plans and elevations in relief. Yes, he can advise other architects on the experience of being sightless as they design for the sightless. He can also observe the impact of sound on a space or the sun\u2019s warmth on a face with greater acuity than, say, an architect who relies primarily on sight to understand environmental factors. But if you define architecture as a creative process, then you have to wonder what the creative process is like for a blind architect. For Downey, it\u2019s simple: Architecture is a matter of vision, not necessarily sight."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The most fundamental misunderstanding that people have\nabout a disability is about a focus on things that can\u2019t be done, as opposed to\nall the things that can be done\u2014or, perhaps, done differently. Architecture is\na creative profession, and with that should be the realization that creative\npowers transcend disabilities. There\u2019s also a perception that disability\ndefines a person. I\u2019ve experienced that, sure, and I\u2019m fairly new to being\nblind, so it\u2019s something that I think about."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"I had the chance to work on a disability merit badge\nwith my son and his scout troop soon after I lost my sight\u2014and working through\nthe book he had made me have a new appreciation of the culture of inclusion in\narchitecture. In architecture we think of codes and legal obligations. But in\nthe handbook they talked about handicaps versus disabilities\u2014and the underlying\nlogic had to do with social justice and equity. If you extrapolate that out to\narchitecture, you realize that architects have a direct role in investigating\nand ensuring social justice and equity. Think of it: I, as an architect, have\nthe opportunity to expand the range of people who can engage in culture and\ncommerce and physical spaces. We, as architects, have that opportunity."]]],[1,"blockquote",[[0,[0],1,"\u0022I don\u2019t see the\ndrawings, I feel them through touch, and I have a more intimate relationship to\nspace in that way because I have to mentally put myself in that building.\u0022"],[0,[],0," "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"It was a huge realization about the real job of\narchitects. It\u2019s an awesome responsibility, and I put it up there with our\nresponsibilities to reduce energy consumption or contribute to resilient\ncommunities."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"When I say that it\u2019s important to get more people with\ndisabilities into the profession, it\u2019s a multifaceted thing. When you have a\ndisability, you think in those terms\u2014you recognize new needs, you can find\nimprovements, whether you\u2019re in a wheelchair or without an arm or without\nsight. Think, for instance, of all the things you have to do in a bathroom\nrelated to simply washing your hands. That relationship, between ability and\naction, becomes a very clear concept when you have a disability\u2014and, I think,\npeople like Michael Graves drew that out and made people think about it."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"How I practice now that\u2019s different is, before, with\nsight, I was so focused on the visual agenda of architecture. Without sight,\nand drawing on my personal and professional experience, it\u2019s about dealing with\nthe environmental factors that really fill in the picture, if you will, of what\narchitecture is and can be. It\u2019s about focus, as I said\u2014because I have\nto\u2014because that\u2019s how I experience the world now. Since I don\u2019t see the\ndrawings, I feel them through touch, and I have a more intimate relationship to\nspace in that way because I have to mentally put myself in that building\u2014moving\nthrough the space, how the space will sound, how it could feel."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"One thing that you realize\u2014something I read about in\nJuhani Pallasmaa\u2019s book "],[0,[0,3],2,"The Eyes of the Skin"],[0,[],0,"\u2014is that sight, of all the senses,\nis the most detached. In other words, you don\u2019t have to touch something to\nunderstand it if you can see it, and you can be mentally satisfied just to see\nit. So I feel more connected and attached, and I have an appreciation of\nthermal aspects of a material, for instance, that I couldn\u2019t tap into before.\nAnother example might be that louder sounds have a great physical and\nmechanical impact on your mind that you can\u2019t imagine unless you\u2019re without\nsight."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"It\u2019s about movement, too. I row every morning and you\nrealize that, visually, you can\u2019t perceive rhythm as well as you can if you\u2019re\nwithout sight. Then there are bodily feelings like fatigue. One of the first\njobs I had after I lost my sight was to work on a rehab center in Palo Alto\n[Calif.] with "],[0,[4],1,"SmithGroupJJR"],[0,[],0,". It was such a challenge to go through my morning\nroutine that, by the time I got to the front door of the office, I was so\ntired. I also don\u2019t have the benefit of circadian rhythms\u2014I feel the sun, but I\ndon\u2019t see it. It is dark being blind, so sleep management is an issue, but I\nstay focused to beat that. I\u2019m deliberate in staying active with rowing because\nit helps."]]],[1,"blockquote",[[0,[0],1,"\u0022Architecture is\na creative profession, and with that should be the realization that creative\npowers transcend disabilities.\u0022"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Being suddenly without sight, there are materials that\nyou realize have a more enduring or delightful experience than you did before.\nCompare stone and a plastic laminate for countertops, for instance. There\u2019s a\ndegree of solidity to the stone versus something that\u2019s clearly synthetic\u2014we\nknow this. In between those two extremes, though, there are synthetic materials\nthat feel much more generous than they should\u2014and engaging tactility really\nchanges your bias about materials."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Take another example: borders. Borders inside of a\nbuilding can be signaled visually through materials, but you have to figure\nthat if you can change colors to signal that shift in a space, then you can\nchange textures, too. I remember experiencing Louis Kahn\u2019s Kimbell Art Museum\n[in Fort Worth, Texas] and the galleries there, with wood floors and inlaid\ntravertine that signal the underlying grid. I knew what that looked like, but I\ncan appreciate it now with my cane and my feet in a haptic way, in a different\nway."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"One thing about Kahn is that his vision was poor; a lot\nof people don\u2019t talk about that. He had a compromised sense of sight, and big\nthick glasses to go with it\u2014and he\u2019d often have to slide his glasses off his\nnose and get right up to the drawing before he could really study it. So his\nrelationship to materials, I think, has a lot to do with his visual\nimpairments."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Not long after I lost my sight, I had to renew my\nlicense, and all sorts of practical issues came up. How do you have control\nover your drawings, for instance, if you can\u2019t see them? So, then, how do you\ncontinue to be a licensed architect? But I was able to renew it. The good news\nis: You\u2019d be hard-pressed today, with ADA and civil rights legislation, to bar\nsomeone from retaining their license. It\u2019s such a broad profession, in terms of\nskills and talents and abilities, that there\u2019s room for everyone. As a\npracticing architect today, I have a far greater appreciation of accessibility\nas it relates to spaces and, importantly, to architects."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"In the days of the cloaked architect\u2014the\nheroic master doing it alone\u2014I\u2019d have a harder time. But today the profession\nis so collaborative that I find myself on skilled teams that I contribute to. I\nwill, and do, strongly attest to the value of having different perspectives and\ndifferent approaches and different biases of a team setting. I\u2019m not currently\nstamping drawings, and I don\u2019t have the capacity to do working drawings, so I\npartner with people to do that. If I were to have a full-service firm one\nday\u2014which I aspire to\u2014I can, just like any other firm, employ a team of trusted\npeople and sighted partners. I don\u2019t see how there would be any difference\nbetween that scenario and a scenario in which I have sight.\u2014"],[0,[5],1,"As told to William Richards"],[0,[],0,"\n\n\n"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\n\n\n\n"]]]]}
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Chris Downey, AIA, speaks about his accomplishments as a blind architect.
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Chris Downey, AIA, and Sana Jahani, an architecture student at the University of California, Berkeley, were both featured in the AIA's short documentary "An Architect's Story."
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