Projects: Architecture Beyond Sight

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Architecture Beyond Sight 

This three day action workshop – running from 13 – 15th September 2018 –  developed from conversations between the Bartlett School UCL and DisOrdinary colleagues about how engaging more directly and creatively with disability can positively disrupt the visual, graphic and ‘abled’ culture of much architectural education, as well as offering the potential to open up a more diverse set of designing, making and representational approaches.

Commissioned by the Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment, Professor Alan Penn, this workshop brought together Carlos Pereira, a blind architect based in Lisbon, with blind and visually impaired artists as well as sighted architectural educators and practitioners, to explore how buildings and spaces could be designed beyond the visual. It also made outline recommendations about how to take these ideas forward, through the design of a short course to be run in 2019 for blind and visually impaired people interested in studying architecture (and longer-term, in the creation of an Access course at the Bartlett).

Two days of the Architecture Beyond Sight (ABS) workshop were spent in small groups to explore what kind of course would be most valuable to blind and partially sighted people, and what it would involve. One day was taken up by a design project, led by Bartlett tutor Paolo Zaide, where each of the 5 blind or visually impaired artists/writer/architect worked with a sighted partner to co-design a design intervention into spaces within the Bartlett School building, to provide a shared creative space. This resulted in a wide range of creative design methods and approaches, including relief sketches and plans/sections; wall-sized conceptual drawings; scale-modelling using plasticine, card and lego; 1:1 scale wire frame and paper-based design descriptions; word pictures; and  performative explanations. Design interventions ranged from the highly conceptual to the strongly practical and detailed.

Artist Rachel Gadsden, with interior architecture educator Judit Pusztaszeri, sit at a table covered in sketches. Behind them on the wall is a large charcoal drawing, with dynamic lines

Rachel Gadsden with Judit Pusztaszeri

The last three days have been inspirational and vigorous, and I have been completely simulated to have spent this precious time with each of you. Thank you for this opportunity  […] my mind is still buzzing, and it felt necessary to spend a few hours this morning [drawing in my studio] capturing some of the magic.

I so hope we get a chance to continue this dialogue together.

Rachel Gadsden, artist

Photo taken from above shows two people - Mandy Redvers-Rowe and Shade Abdul - working together on a tactile plan, using white lego on a grey baseboard.

Mandy Redevers-Rowe with Shade Abdul

Two people, one facing us (architect Anne Thorne) and one with their back to us (Artist Lynn Cox) sit at a table discussing the project.

Lynn Cox with Anne Thorne

Just to add my note of thanks, I very much enjoyed the three days which were extraordinarily interesting, brilliantly organised and carefully curated, to enable everyone’s contributions.

Being given the  time to understand how people with visual impairment/blind experience their 3D surroundings was invaluable for me particularly as a practicing architect, especially with such an experienced group of people who were so articulate and able to give such clear feedback. I really enjoyed the individual variety which each pair brought to the mix and how that was analysed and consolidated over the three days.

Anne Thorne, principal Anne Thorne Architects (ATA)

The design team of Zoe Partington and Barbara Penner explain t heir project to other participants.

Zoe Partington and Prof. Barbara Penner

Blind architect Carlos Pereira explains his scheme, co-designed with Alan Penn, to the other blind participants, using touch.

The workshop ended with the whole group putting together an agreed framework for what a short course for blind and visually impaired people should be like; framing ideas about what needs to occur next to make it happen in the short-term; and discussing how to work towards longer-term aims of enabling more disabled people into architectural education and practice, and of also challenging the over-emphasis on the visual within the discipline.

First, [I learnt] that not only is the idea of architecture for visually impaired people feasible, actually it is needed. Everyone was enthusiastic and that makes a real difference in taking a decision to do something unorthodox.

Second, there will be benefits all round from doing this – for the profession, for pedagogy, for sighted students and staff as well as for visually impaired people. The processes we will need to put in place will benefit all, and the learning to be had from doing this will be significant.

Third, […] what we need to aim for is an access/foundation programme specifically aimed at blind and visually impaired people, and then to incorporate a cohort into the BSc Architecture. [The] first step would be a summer school to help us gain the experience needed to design the access programme.

Prof Alan Penn, Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment, University College London (UCL).


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