Because deaf people are hyper-sensitive to vibration, and many wear cochlear implants that pick up ambient sounds, a loud air conditioning unit or a hallway echo that the hearing barely notice can cause discomfort or confusion for a deaf person. Minimising noise, however, is only part of the story, and the other DeafSpace guidelines address various ways of maximising visibility. Having a conversation in sign language, especially while walking, requires that two people have enough space between them to see each other’s hands; therefore interiors conducive to deaf communication need to have wide, open spaces with clear sightlines. Light balance and colour palette should also be carefully mitigated to reduce eye strain. In 2008 Gallaudet first implemented the DeafSpace Guidelines in the new James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Centre building, a joint venture between SmithGroup and Kuhn Riddle Architects. The SLCC was a true testing ground; many promising-sounding ideas were less of a hit in real life. One experiment in rounded corners for visibility, for instance, resulted in an unexpected side effect: walkers tend to speed up and crash into each other when hugging a rounded wall.
After studying how users experienced the SLCC, Bauman and a university team planned the Living and Learning Residence Hall, a student dorm built in 2010 by LTL Architects, Quinn Evans Architects and Signal Construction.
Hansel Bauman, Architect + Planner (HB / a+p) was established in July 2006 to address complex design challenges with an inclusive and considered approach to architecture and planning for higher education, scientific research, and community based projects.
Bauman has over twenty years of experience in planning and design of facilities for education, scientific research, industry and residential communities in the US, Europe and Asia. The majority of this experience is drawn from his work with large, national design and planning firms. He is currently Director of Campus Design and Planning at Gallaudet University.
This time glass corners, rather than rounded ones, were designed, large spaces prone to reverberation were carefully soundproofed, and a large multi-purpose room on the ground floor was subtly stepped according to the ground plane to allow full sightlines.
These subtle changes are low-tech, sustainable solutions that could truly improve any building. As Dave J. Lewis from LTL puts it, “DeafSpace takes the deaf experience and uses it as a way of challenging the perfunctory, normative expectations of architecture according to modernist understandings of efficiency, which prize time and economy at the cost of social interaction.” Here, efficiency is measured according to ease of communication – success determined via human experience. I (ew)