How Would Losing Your Sight Change Your Approach to Design?

Alison Prato speaks with architect Chris Downey, who lost his eyesight five years ago following surgery to remove a brain tumor, about how his approach to design and his experience of the city have changed.

"After 46 years of living with sight, waking up one day blind — and with no sense of smell, which he also lost in the surgery — was 'quite frankly, really terrifying,'” writes Prato. "Now, as one of the few blind architects in the world, Downey has taken a keen interest in multisensory design, which is important for visually impaired people who rely on touch, sound or smell to navigate."

"These days, he says, he designs with a tactile palette, not just a color palette, in mind. 'Blind people rely on acoustics to get around. I test materials with my cane to see how they feel. Instead of doing a ‘walk-through,’ we create a ‘tap-through,’ so you hear what it’s like when you tap your cane throughout the building.' He uses an embossing printer to print out drawings of the spaces he works on. (Recent projects include eye centers in California and at Duke University, and innovative transportation hubs in the Bay Area.)"

Full Story: My City: Life as a blind architect in San Francisco


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