10 Qs with Chris Downey

Reading embossed print of architectural plan through touch. Photography by Don Fogg.

Project: VA Palo Alto, Blind Rehabilitation Center. Wax stick sketch on embossed section drawing of lobby Bridge. Photography by Don Fogg. 

Project: VA Palo Alto, CA Rehabilitation Center. Rendered view of main lobby with grand stair to blind rehabilitation center on second floor above. The stair is designed to work with orientation and mobility strategies used by people with new cane travel skills and acoustics are designed to support non-visual orientation within the space. Rendering by SmithGroup JJR. 

Making the design process accessible to clients and users that are blind—reviewing project design with Ms. Jessie Lorenz, Executive Director of the San Francisco Independent Living Resource Center. Photography by Don Fogg.

Reception Area with desk that is accessible to visitors and staff. The ceilings are left open to the existing structure and mechanical to maximize the height of the space with an open wood slat ceiling along the front as a light scrim to drop the scale and create a sense of transition off the street. An incredibly durable, if not indestructible, wainscot material, Trespa, is used to protect the walls against accidental impact by people new to using motorized wheelchairs. Photography by Don Fogg.

Project: San Francisco Independent Living Resource Center. Polished concrete was used for all circulation areas for the ease of movement for people in wheelchairs and for acoustic feedback for blind users. Adjacent open work areas and private offices have cork tile flooring for tactile contrast, acoustic dampening, ease of movement for wheelchairs and for air quality for people with allergen sensitivities. Photography by Don Fogg.

Design sketch by Chris Downey using wax sticks to explore handrail grip profile options.

Photo of 3D prints of various handrail options derived from wax stick drawings with Mark Cavagnero Associates, Architects. 3D prints of the handrail options were essential as the driving interest was not only how it looked but more importantly, how it fit within the hand.

Project: San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired with Mark Cavagnero Associates, Architects. Photo of wood tread and metal stair nosing. The wood is the Brazilian Hardwood, Ipe with a slightly grooved metal nosing designed for good performance with cane tips and 70% visual contrast against the wood for people with low vision conditions. Wood was selected for the acoustic performance as it would provide good audible feedback that would sound solid yet lively to help animate the space without being too quiet and invisible to the blind or alternatively too loud and clangy which would be unpleasant and overwhelming.

Project: San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired with Mark Cavagnero Associates, Architects. Architects rendering of the new multi-sensory LightHouse Reception Area with wood slat ceilings and sound attenuating insulation above, accessible reception desk, comfortable seating areas, micro-perf walls for better acoustic performance with a glimpse beyond to new openings for new communicating stairs up to student dorms and activity spaces and down to administrative offices and volunteer services below. Arriving at the reception area it is important for all visitors to sense the activity and magnitude of the organization whether sighted or not.