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Christopher Downey

Fri, 09/13/2013 - 13:26 -- deepti.gahrotra

In 2008, surgery to treat a brain tumor left San Francisco–based architect Chris Downey blind at the age of 45. Today, he is dedicated to creating more helpful and enriching environments for the blind and visually impaired.

Chris earned a bachelor of environmental design in architecture from North Carolina State University and masters of architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. His 20-year career has encompassed a broad range of award-winning projects from custom residences to Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, and the MIT’s Rotch Architectural Library. He is currently consulting with the SmithGroup in association with The Design Partnership on the design of the Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center for the Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System. He is a registered architect in California.

When he was laid off after only a few weeks of being hired form a prestigious architecture firm in San Francisco , due his loss of eyesight, Downey joined the ranks of many other  laid of laid-off architects in San Francisco. However he was pretty sure he was the only blind one. It turned out to be an interesting credential, as SmithGroup and another firm, the Design Partnership, hired him as a consultant.

As a consultant, who lost his sight in 2008, Downey draws upon his experience as an architect to help design teams and client organizations to create enriching environments for the visually impaired and, not coincidentally, the sighted as well.

Downey uses his unique perspective to facilitate greater clarity in the overall design and better integration of critical tools for the blind—such as way-finding and access to information—through more thorough consideration of tactility, touch, smell, temperature, sound, and new technologies. He also help to craft design processes that are more responsive to the needs of blind clients and end-users.
Downey believes, "Great architecture for the blind and visually impaired is just like any other great architecture, only better: it looks and works the same while offering a richer and better involvement of all senses. With this expanded understanding, I offer the potential to enhance the experience in all environments serving a greater proportion of the visually impaired."

To know more about Chis Downey visit his website or hear him talk at TEDx.

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United States

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