Architecture for the Blind: Whole-body Navigation in Cities

Tuesday, 10/11/16
494 Wurster Hall

Christopher Downey, AIA, is an architect, planner and consultant who lost all sight in 2008. Today, he is dedicated to creating more helpful and enriching environments for the blind and visually impaired.

Architecture and city planning tend to be dominated by visual thinking.  What can designers learn by paying attention to all of our senses? Downey will speak about what he has learned about employing previously underused senses to navigate in the city and how these lessons have affected his design practice. Together we'll discuss the classic phenomenological text on vision and other senses by Junahi Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin:  Architecture and the Senses and will consider what the growing interdisciplinary field of sound studies can contribute to design. 

Downey consults on design for the blind and visually impaired, encompassing specialized centers as well as facilities serving the broader public. His work ranges from a new Department of Veterans Affairs blind rehabilitation center, to renovations of housing for the blind in New York City, and to the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.

As one of the few practicing blind architects in the world, Downey has been featured in local, national and international media stories and speaks regularly about architecture and visual impairment. He also teaches accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco.

He starts each day rowing with the East Bay Rowing Club on the Oakland Estuary before commuting on public transit to his office in San Francisco.

IMPORTANT: 494 Wurster is in the SOUTH Tower of Wurster Hall. If you are on the fourth floor in the North Tower you cannot walk across to the South Tower unless you go down to the third floor.  When you enter Wurster Hall's main (west) entrance, turn right and take the single elevators in the South Tower up to the fourth floor. If you take one of the double elevators you are in the North Tower.