Empathetic Eyes: Out-sights from my Blind Avatar

Empathetic Eyes: Out-sights from my Blind Avatar

Dr Chris Downey

Sunday, 15 Rajab 1439 AH - 1 April 2018 AD 8:30 - 9:00am - Address(Main Auditorium-Round Auditorium)

Christopher V. Downey, AIA


Architecture for the Blind

With 20 years of architectural practice before losing all sight in 2008, Chris Downey now leverages his disability as a unique strength specializing in projects rooted in universal design and in projects that are specific to or challenging for people who are blind and visually impaired. Whether rehabilitation or transit centers, eye clinics, or museums, he designs environments that are accessible with particular care and focus on visual accessibility and the non-visual experience. Chris has consulted on projects in San Francisco, California including the Lighthouse for the Blind, the Independent Living Resource Center and the Transbay Transit Center as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center in nearby Palo Alto, CA. He has also consulted on various planning and public transit projects including the development of the Downtown Corridor Plan for the nearby City of Concord, design and community engagement for the AC Transit Bus Rapid Transit project, and has consulted with and advised BART on numerous accessibility and Universal Design initiatives. He has consulted nationally on such projects as the Duke University Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina, renovations to housing for the blind in New York City and for accessibility improvements for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL. He is currently consulting on the new headquarters for the National Industries for the Blind in Alexandria, VA, the new UPMC Eye Institute in Pittsburgh, PA the development of a new inclusive wayfinding strategy for Microsoft's campus in Redmond, WA and a new campus and building(s) for the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen, SD. His work is now global consulting with Grimshaw Architects of the UK and Thinc Design of New York for the Expo 2020, Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai, UAE.
As an architect and designer deeply imbedded within the blind and disability culture and community, he has grown to realize that his disability, his blindness, is less about what cannot be seen but more importantly about the broad and rich spectrum of the sensory phenomena that can be experienced and understood on multiple levels that can all be composed and curated toward a common shared goal. Chris has transformed his disability into a unique strength leveraging it as a powerful design strategy for richer and more immersive experiences to the benefit of all. This approach infuses his prior sighted architectural experience with the wide range of work specific to and within the blind, visually impaired, and general disability experience for a truly unique skill set and platform as collaborator and advisor .
Chris also teaches accessibility and Universal Design for the University of California, Berkeley Department of Architecture, is involved with two federally funded research projects including the development of design guidelines for improved wayfinding and orientation for the blind and visually impaired in airports for the Federal Aviation Administration and has a Gubernatorial appointment to the California Commission on Disability Access. He has served on the board of directors for the LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco since 2010 and as its president since 2016. He speaks internationally about Architecture and visual impairment ,has been featured in numerous media stories including The 2015 AIA documentary short, "An architect's Story " while his TED Talk, "Design with the Blind in Mind," has been viewed nearly a million times. The American Foundation for the Blind has honored Chris with its 2017 Helen Keller Achievement Award and the Associated Services for the Blind in Philadelphia, PA honored him with its 2017 Louis Braille Achievement Award while the AIA California Council has honored him with its 2016 Norma Sklarek award for social responsibility. Most recently, the College of Design at North Carolina State University, where he received his undergraduate degree in architecture, has selected him for its 2017 Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Chris received his Bachelor of Environmental Design from North Carolina State University in 1984 and his Masters of Architecture from the University of California Berkeley in 1992.

Empathetic Eyes: Outsights from my Blind Avatar

Architect Chris Downey invites you to step inside his blind avatar to experience his vision and fascination of architecture, life and disability gained through his 10 year journey through a delightfully luminous darkness. Reveling in a surprising abundance of residual ability, he shares a wide range of simple, surprising and at times humorous insights gained since unexpectedly losing all sight in 2008. These insights, or outsights, as he calls them, have helped him to embrace and cherish a way of life that initially seemed so incomprehensible and foreboding - a way of life and a way of working that now seem so natural and wonderful. the many simple, authentic and accidental lessons learned along the way leads him yearning more for the experiences he has not yet achieved or lessons not yet learned than for the sense of sight that he no longer has. Through this talk, Mr. Downey will challenge you to recognize that disability is far more interesting and powerful when we focus on the unique strengths that remain and how a child-like fascination and curiosity can transform a disability into a delightful and liberating strength. He will also discuss how the way we imagine our buildings, our cities and our environment can either perpetuate the "handicapping" of disability that results in the typical exclusionary cultural condition or liberate disability and impairment as a mere inconvenience within a truly inclusive environment.