How a Blind Architect is Changing Design

San Francisco-based architect Chris Downey lost his sight in 2008 following surgery to remove a benign brain tumor that was pressing against his optic nerve. For someone whose livelihood depended so heavily on vision, such a loss might have forced a career shift.

But Downey never considered leaving architecture. Instead he was back to the office within a month, and in the years since, has found incredible ways to work with his blindness.

“An essential part of dealing with my blindness was embracing the challenge,” he says in this recent video from the American Institute of Architects.

Downey went on to design the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, a nonprofit that provides services and training for people with disabilities. He is currently working on the design of the new headquarters for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, and collaborating with acoustic engineers to make the space sonically useful for those who rely on their sense of hearing to help in wayfinding.

To work, Downey uses an embossing printer—which prints braille and tactile graphics—and an inTACT Sketchpad for reading and drawing plans. He believes that in designing space, architects need to be better at delivering multisensory experiences in order to make them more effective for those with visual impairments. In doing so, he believes they are improving the spaces for everyone.

In a 2013 TED Talk, Downey talks about how his interactions with the world changed along with his sight. He developed “outsights” about the many subtle sensory experiences we all experience in navigating the world, and the clues we get from sounds, smells, and feelings. Design elements that had always been present now came to the forefront.

“Not only is the city good for the blind but, the city needs us,” he said. “I’m so sure of that, that I want to propose to you today that the blind be taken as the prototypical city dwellers when imagining new and wonderful cities, and not the people who are thought about after the mold has already been cast. It’s too late then.”

As one of the few practicing blind architects, Downey is leading the charge in a new way of approaching design.

Or as he puts it, “I’m always careful to say I’m without sight, not without vision.”

To watch Downey’s illuminating TED Talk, check out the video below.  

[h/t Dwell]

Futuristic New Street Toilets Are Coming to San Francisco

San Francisco’s streets are getting shiny new additions: futuristic-looking public toilets. Co.Design reports that San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has chosen a new design for self-cleaning street toilets by the architectural firm SmithGroupJJR that will eventually replace the city’s current public toilets.

The design is a stark contrast to the current San Francisco toilet aesthetic, a green knockoff of Paris’s Sanisettes. (They’re made by the same company that pioneered the Parisian version, JCDecaux.) The tall, curvy silver pods, called AmeniTREES, are topped with green roof gardens designed to collect rainwater that can then be used to flush the toilets and clean the kiosks themselves. They come in several different variations, including a single or double bathroom unit, one with benches, a street kiosk that can be used for retail or information services, and a design that can be topped by a tree. The pavilions also have room for exterior advertising.

Renderings of the silver pod bathrooms from the side and the top

“The design blends sculpture with technology in a way that conceptually, and literally, reflects San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods,” the firm’s design principal, Bill Katz, explained in a press statement. “Together, the varied kiosks and public toilets design will also tell a sustainability story through water re-use and native landscapes.”

San Francisco has a major street-poop problem, in part due to its large homeless population. The city has the second biggest homeless population in the country, behind New York City, and data collected in 2017 shows that the city has around 7500 people living on its streets. Though the city started rolling out sidewalk commodes in 1996, it doesn’t have nearly enough public toilets to match demand. There are only 28 public toilets across the city right now, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

These designs aren’t ready to go straight into construction first—the designers have to work with JCDeaux, which installs the city’s toilets, to adapt them “to the realities of construction and maintenance,” as the Chronicle puts it. Then, those plans will have to be submitted to the city’s arts commission and historic preservation commission before they can be installed.

[h/t Co.Design]

Houben and Van Mierlo Architecten
Dutch City Will Become the World's First to Build Inhabitable 3D-Printed Concrete Houses
Houben and Van Mierlo Architecten
Houben and Van Mierlo Architecten

A new 3D-printed concrete housing development is coming to the Netherlands in 2019, CNN reports. The structures will be the first habitable 3D-printed concrete houses in the world, according to Project Milestone, the organization behind the initiative.

While architects and engineers have been experimenting with 3D-printed buildings for several years, most of those structures have just been prototypes. The Dutch development, located in Eindhoven, is expected to be ready for its first residents by mid-2019.

Project Milestone is a collaboration between the city of Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology, the contractor Van Wijnen, the real estate company Vesteda—which will own and manage the houses—the engineering consultancy Witteveen+Bos, and the construction materials company Weber Beamix.

A rendering of boulder-like homes in the middle of a field
Houben and Van Mierlo Architecten

The five planned homes will be built one by one, giving the architects and engineers time to adjust their process as needed. The development is expected to be completed over the next five years.

The housing development won’t look like your average residential neighborhood: The futuristic houses resemble massive boulders with windows in them. The first house, scheduled for completion in 2019, will be a 1022-square-foot, three-room home. It will be a single-story house, though all the rest of the homes will have multiple stories. The first house will be built using the concrete printer on the Eindhoven University of Technology’s campus, but eventually the researchers hope to move the whole fabrication process on-site.

In the next few years, 3D-printed houses will likely become more commonplace. A 3D-printed home in Tennessee is expected to break ground sometime later in 2018. One nonprofit is currently trying to raise money to build a development of 100 3D-printed houses in El Salvador within the next two years. And there is already a 3D-printed office building open in Dubai.

In Eindhoven, residents appear to be fairly eager for the development to open. Twenty families have already applied to live in the first home.

You can learn more about the construction process in the video below.

[h/t CNN]


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