Big things are brewing in the architectural hotbed that is Washington, D.C.—and no, it's not another Frank Gehry memorial debacle. The capital's Gallaudet University has poured years of research into its newest dormitory, a fresh-faced structure built for maximum ease of use—though, at first glance, you'd probably never guess exactly how thoughtful the building, a five-story, 60,000-square-foot student space, really is. It's not until the automatic doors sigh open and the students come milling in that it's clear—see, Living and Learning Residence Hall 6, and all the rest of Gallaudet University, for that matter, is built with its deaf students and staff in mind. Those automatic doors? They keep conversations from stopping and starting. The ample wattage? The curtains available for backlight adjustment? The utter lack of unexpected steps or fixed-row auditorium seating? It's all to make visual communication that much easier.
Notice also: there's no glare-causing white walls (a strain on the eyes), and flesh-colored backdrops are replaced with "deep blue, bright green, maple-leaf red." The main egress into the assembly hall is a wide, slowly sloping ramp, which allows people to keep their attention on the conversation, not Point B. It's all low-tech stuff, implemented in a way that's simple and smart.
The method is called DeafSpace and it has as its founding pillars two simple things, concepts that, really, should apply to any intuitive piece of architecture: awareness and sensitivity. "It's about creating empathy between the individual and the building," campus architect and planner Hansel Bauman told Metropolis, which recently ran a feature about the space.
And it's not all just about the visuals, either. According to the article:
"DeafSpace guidelines emphasize acoustics. Hearing aids capture distracting ambient noise, such as foot traffic, chairs scraping along a hard floor, and echoes. The design team modeled acoustic ceiling solutions several times before settling on layered panels and cedar slats. Additional sound control in wide-open spaces comes from carpet tiles and bamboo partitions, which also provide seating and work surfaces. Read more about DeafSpace, right this way.