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]

Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Vantablack Pavilion at the Winter Olympics Mimics the Darkness of Space
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

British company Surrey NanoSystems disrupted the color spectrum when it debuted Vantablack: the darkest artificial substance ever made. The material is dark enough to absorb virtually all light waves, making 3D objects look like endless black voids. It was originally designed for technology, but artists and designers have embraced the unique shade. Now, Dezeen reports that British architect Asif Khan has brought Vantablack to the Winter Olympics.

His temporary pavilion at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea has been dubbed the darkest building on Earth. The 33-foot-tall structure has been coated with Vantablack VBx2, a version of Vantablack pigment that comes in a spray can.

The building’s sides curve inward like shadowboxes. To break up the all-consuming blackness, Khan outfitted the walls with rods. White lights at the ends of the sticks create the effect of stars scattered across an endless night sky.

Child next to wall painted to look like the night sky.
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

Khan told Dezeen that the piece is meant to give “the impression of a window cut into space.” He was only able to realize this vision after contacting the scientists behind Vantablack. He told them he wanted to use the color to coat a building, something the pigment wasn’t designed for originally. Sculptor Anish Kapoor securing exclusive rights to artistic use of the color in 2016 further complicated his plans. The solution was the sprayable version: Vantablack VBx2 is structurally (and therefore legally) different from the original pigment and better suited for large-scale projects.

The pavilion was commissioned by Hyundai to promote their hydrogen fuel cell technology. The space-themed exterior is a nod to the hydrogen in stars. Inside, a white room filled with sprinklers is meant to represent the hydrogen found in water.

The area will be open to visitors during the Winter Olympics, which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday, February 9.

[h/t Dezeen]

Shari Austrian
You Can Order a Stunningly Detailed LEGO Replica of Your House on Etsy
Shari Austrian
Shari Austrian

LEGO blocks can be used to construct fictional starships and works of abstract art, but there's something comforting in replicating what's familiar to you. That's the concept behind Little Brick Lane, an Etsy shop that promises to custom-build detailed LEGO models of real homes.

Designer Shari Austrian tells Apartment Therapy that the idea came to her when her family was building their real-life house. Her twin boys had recently gotten her interested in LEGO, so she decided to construct a scaled-down, blocky replica to match their new home. She enjoyed the project enough to launch a business around LEGO architecture on Etsy at the end of 2017.

Austrian bases her designs off interior and exterior photos of each house, and if they're available, architectural plans. Over eight to 10 weeks, she constructs the model using LEGO pieces she orders to match the building design perfectly, recreating both the inside and outside of the house in the utmost detail.

To request a custom LEGO abode of your own, you can reach out to Austrian through her Etsy shop, but warning: It won't come cheap. A full model will cost you at least $2500 (the exact price is based on the square footage of your home). That price covers the cost of the materials Austrian invests in each house, which can add up quick. "The average LEGO piece costs approximately 10 cents," she tells Mental Floss, and her models are made up of tens of thousands of pieces. But if you're looking for something slightly cheaper, she also offers exterior-only models for $1500 and up.

For your money, you can be confident that Austrian won't skimp on any details. As you can see in the images below, every feature of your house—from the appliances in your kitchen to the flowers in your yard—will be immortalized in carefully chosen plastic bricks.

A bedroom made of LEGO

A kitchen model made of LEGO

The exterior of a house made of LEGO

[h/t Apartment Therapy]

All images courtesy of Shari Austrian.


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