The AIA screened its first documentary today at its National Convention in Atlanta. Made in collaboration with San Francisco-based creative agency CSpence Group, the roughly 4-minute film features Christopher Downey, AIA, on how the blind designer makes considerations in architecture and planning. Back in 2008, he lost his sight while in surgery to remove a brain tumor. Now, he dedicates his work to creating more accommodating environments for the blind and visually impaired through his consulting firm Architecture for the Blind.
As one of the few practicing architects without sight in the world, Downey is at the forefront in the field of architectural design for the visually impaired. To help realize his projects, the architect uses new technologies that can print out his drawings in tactile form—similar to braille. He says since losing his sight, he has become more in tune with his senses and concerned with aspects of architecture that used to be “passive” when he could see.
Currently, he’s working on the design of the new headquarters for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, an organization motivated by providing services to blind people for more than 100 years.
Downey is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, where he emphasizes that architects need to consider people’s physical limitations. “Architects shouldn’t be designing for the ‘average man’ or ‘average woman,'" Sana Jahani, one of Downey's students, says in the video.
The film is part of the AIA's three-year public awareness campaign, “Look Up,” which highlights architects' abilities to visualize global design solutions through inspired thinking and the occasional upward glance at existing, built precedents. The campaign also reminds the public of the importance of architecture, so much of which is located above eye-level. The purpose of this initiative is to reconnect laypeople with architecture, while inspiring a new generation of architects as facilitators of growth and renewal.
The next phase of this of the campaign involves a competition for filmmakers that calls for short films that will inspire the world to do as architects do—look up, that is. The contest will launch July 17.