Meet the blind architect who designs buildings by touch alone
Could you design a building blind, using only touch? Architect Chris Downey does. In 2008, after the removal of a benign brain tumour, Downey lost his sight. Rather than letting it end his career, Downey tells how he learned to rely on other senses… and discovered a whole new approach to architecture.Interview by William Sigsworth
Though incredibly important to an architect, touch is not a sense that we have always appreciated. In fact, a criticism often levelled at our profession is that we have become so visually orientated.
With all the screens we now work with, sight is easy and quick – it gives us the ability to see at a distance and we don’t even have to be there in person. But in reality, the end product is not on a screen, it’s not a representation; it’s a real thing in space and time. And a big part of that is the full range of sensations that you get only by physically experiencing a building.
With sight, the reaction is, ‘Oh, that looks good,’ as opposed to, ‘That feels good.’ Touch is something subtler, as it might not come to mind as quickly. For most people, 80 per cent of the environmental sensory experience is visual, leaving just 20 per cent for everything else.
Our sense of taste doesn’t have a whole lot to do with architecture, but the senses of touch, smell and hearing are so important.