Episode 50: DeafSpace

(Above: Plans for LLRH6, or Living and Learning Residence Hall by LTL Architects / Quinn Evans Architects. Notice the blue walls that provide the best contrast for seeing American Sign Language.)

The acoustics of a building are a big concern for architects. But for designers at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, it’s the absence of sound that defines the approach to architecture.

Gallaudet is a university dedicated to educating the deaf and hard of hearing, and since 2005, they’ve re-thought principles of architecture with one question at the forefront: how do deaf people communicate in space?

Unlike hearing people, the deaf have to keep sightlines in order to maintain conversations. So when deaf people walk and talk, they’ll lock into a kind of dance. Going through a doorway, one person will spin in place and walk backwards to keep talking. Walking past a column, two deaf people in conversation will move in tandem to avoid collision.

Spaces designed for the hearing can also give the deaf a great deal of anxiety – when you can’t hear footsteps from around the corner or behind you, you can’t anticipate who or what is around you.

Robert Sirvage is a deaf designer, researcher, and instructor at Gallaudet, and in collaboration with Hansel Bauman — who is not deaf – and a group of staff, students and architects, they’ve developed a project called DeafSpace. Reporter Tom Dreisbach took a tour through the new building at Gallaudet that is incorporating the innovations of DeafSpace to create an environment more pleasing to everyone, both hearing and deaf.

Gallaudet-University-SLCC

(Above: The SLCC or Sorenson Language and Communication Center by SmithGroup Architects)

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