Gallaudet University building designed especially for the deaf and hard of hearing

Gallaudet University building designed especially for the deaf and hard of hearing


Gallaudet University is the only university in the United States that is dedicated to deaf and hearing impaired individuals. So this building on the campus is the first one that was really done with the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired in mind. The whole art of architectural communication communicating with a client it was both a real challenge and a challenge to the project and kind of an opportunity to explore communications through design. Deaf architecture really is a foundation for almost a new paradigm. It’s a much more sort of organic process. That’s much more in touch with how people sense space. It’s a much more sensory approach. And so sorting out what that meant was part of the design process. So collaborating with deaf people was really central to getting at those ideas. The group with Hansel Bauman, one of our clients, produced a document. It was called Deaf Aesthetic Principles and it described aspects of form, material and light that were very important characteristics to capture in the design of the facility. The openness of the building, the use of a lot of glass not having barriers that would prevent people being able to see one another to communicate. One of the most important things that our SmithGroup team learned was that deaf people consider being deaf a natural state a natural way of being. And that was really significant to us and really did form one of the central design themes. You’ll notice that this great open space has I think a really unique shape. It’s formed by both facilitating communication, but it’s also a sense of coming together and forming a community. There’s a lot of glass everywhere in this space. The glass rails, glass elevators, large expanses of glass at the major building entries. That was to really reinforce the idea of making it easy to see and be seen and communicate. The quality of light in the building is really soft and right now we’re getting a lot of indirect light bouncing off the ceiling onto these surfaces. Light…it’s important both functionally and aesthetically. This idea of being soft and easy on the eyes. It’s always a backdrop for sign language. If the backgrounds are complicated it creates eye-strain for people who are using their hands to communicate. The geometry is sort of splayed and it sort of opens up to create areas to stop and gather and interact or to study. What you see here is a video phone booth and these were invented by Sorenson, who’s actually the major donor for the building. These replace the old sort of communication technology TTY for deaf people being able to make phone calls and communicate. And you see they contain video and audio equipment, making it really easy to use for both deaf people and hearing people. This is one of the 16-person classrooms in the building and you’ll notice that it’s really quite large. The shape of the seating resembles actually the shape of the public space and again that’s to facilitate easy communication. We actually positioned where deaf people’s hands would be and checked out the light levels to ensure that communication would be easy over a long duration of time. You’ll notice in this outdoor space outside the glass the use of zinc and that was used to reference the space as sort of a inside-outside space. Zinc was used to catch the light in a really soft, subtle way. It’s a natural material and it does have that sense of being organic and natural, which was one of the underlying ideas of the design of the building. It’s really opened people’s eyes an awful lot about the power that architecture has. I think it’s put a dialog about architecture really at the forefront of what we’re up to here at Gallaudet. You’re designing a facility that people are going to use and experience. and so you need to understand how they’re going to use it and how they’re going to experience it. And I think that was something that will carry forward into the design of other projects. It was this which is the way deaf people applaud. To see the co-chairs and the people we worked with for over 3 years walk into this building for the first time and do this it was pretty gratifying.


10 thoughts on “Gallaudet University building designed especially for the deaf and hard of hearing

  1. What a beautiful building.
    To the previous commenters, it was an honest mistake. Think of all of the things the SmithGroup did learn about being Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as well as Deaf culture, while designing this building. Kudos to the SmithGroup.

  2. @wonderwoman517 We very much agree on the benefits of incorporating student and faculty feedback and do so whenever we can. We hope viewers will better understand after viewing the video why we designed the Center the way we did, and our design team and our client tells that story well. Thanks for the feedback. SmithGroup

  3. Greetings, it is captioned — simply click on the little red CC that you see in the lower right area. After you click the captioning will appear. Let me know if you have any problems. I hope you like the video!
    SmithGroup

  4. I'm sorry, this building is completely disqualified for Deaf Blind. AIAs need to be considerate of others including Deaf Blind. Use universal design would be recommended.

  5. This is still an offensive video even though you apologies for using the term impaired. You should re edit it without that woman calling us impaired and reupload it. It shouldn’t continue to be out there for people to continue to get the wrong information.

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