Blind Architect – The Fruition of Perception

In my career, I always think about what I plan on doing or how I want to achieve my passions in Architecture. I never think twice about looking at structures and colors with vibrant textures. The thought wasn’t there until I was driving and realized that if I couldn’t see – I wouldn’t be able to drive.

By Rosa Downy


To me, not to drive is scary and unfathomable but what if an architect couldn’t see?  Can an architect who cannot see still be able to fulfill his or her passion? My question was answered! His name is Chris Downey, AIA. “Architecture for the Blind”  He is an architect who lost his vision due to a brain tumor at the height of his career.


brail floor planMr. Downey talks about multi sensory design and how the blind must rely on other factors beside vision to think or create. He says, “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.” Prato, Alison. “Chris Downey: My Life as a Blind Architect in San Francisco.” Ideas .Ted.Com  30 Sept. 2013.  Thus, he gives us an idea of how he frames without seeing by using wax sticks with his fingers. Taylor-Hochberg, Amelia. “How a Blind Architect Reframes Design.” Architect News .


chris_downey_plans_04by Patricia Chang


Also, how he reads construction documents and the thought put into it is amazing. Mr. Downey basically “found a blind computer scientist who had devised a way to print online maps through a tactile printer; it worked for architectural drawings too. Meub would take Downey’s hand and guide it to details on the plans, as they talked. ‘He can’t just look at a drawing at a glance,’ Meub told me later. ‘At first I thought, Okay, this is going to be a limitation. But then I realized that the way he reads his drawings is not dissimilar to the way we experience space. He’ll be walking through a plan with his index finger, discovering things, and damn, he’s walking through the building!’” McGray, Douglas. “Design Within Reach.” The Atlantic Monthly   

Such effort and thinking around his problem shows me that not everyone who can see is of pure luck, but rather “too comfortable.” To me, Mr. Downy is correct when he said, “as architects, we’re visual animals.” Perhaps extenuating circumstances can push the most out of people, but with passion, I am always encouraged to know we can always do our best. “Take sight out of the equation” and you still have no excuse of “what makes for good architecture.” McGray, Douglas. “Design Within Reach.” The Atlantic Monthly

by Jon Lee

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