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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]

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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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Pol Viladoms
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One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
Pol Viladoms
Pol Viladoms

Visiting buildings designed by iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is on the to-do list of nearly every tourist passing through Barcelona, Spain, but there's always been one important design that visitors could only view from the outside. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was the first major work in Gaudí's influential career, but it has been under private ownership for its entire existence. Now, for the first time, visitors have the chance to see inside the colorful building. The house opened as a museum on November 16, as The Art Newspaper reports.

Gaudí helped spark the Catalan modernism movement with his opulent spaces and structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia. You can see plenty of his architecture around Barcelona, but the eccentric Casa Vicens is regarded as his first masterpiece, famous for its white-and-green tiles and cast-iron gate. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Casa Vicens is a treasured part of the city's landscape, yet it has never been open to the public.

Then, in 2014 the private Spanish bank MoraBanc bought the property with the intention of opening it up to visitors. The public is finally welcome to take a look inside following a $5.3 million renovation. To restore the 15 rooms to their 19th-century glory, designers referred to historical archives and testimonies from the descendants of former residents, making sure the house looked as much like Gaudí's original work as possible. As you can see in the photos below, the restored interiors are just as vibrant as the walls outside, with geometric designs and nature motifs incorporated throughout.

In addition to the stunning architecture, museum guests will find furniture designed by Gaudí, audio-visual materials tracing the history of the house and its architect, oil paintings by the 19th-century Catalan artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés, and a rotating exhibition. Casa Vicens is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission costs about $19 (€16).

An empty room in the interior of Casa Vicens

Interior of house with a fountain and arched ceilings

One of the house's blue-and-white tiled bathrooms

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

All images courtesy of Pol Viladoms.

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