LEED, DeafSpace designing community in architecture
Photo courtesy of USGBC
These two architectural models combine thought leadership in sustainability with accessibility, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Together, they symbolize the richness of community dwelling spaces where people can thrive in communication, create platforms for engagement and celebrate culture.
In honor of Deaf History Month, the USGBC has spotlighted how the features of DeafSpace are foundational to the deaf experience.
How does building design impact the way a non-hearing individual moves in space? When one analyzes the places people live, learn, work and play in soundless arenas, the possibilities are powerful.
“Our built environment, largely constructed by and for hearing individuals, presents a variety of surprising challenges to which deaf people have responded with a particular way of altering their surroundings to fit their unique ways-of-being,” the Gallaudet website explains.
Without sound, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals often experience heightened sensory awareness in sight and touch. Most people use American Sign Language, a language visual and spatial in its very nature.
“When congregating, groups customarily work together to rearrange furnishings into a ‘circle’ to allow clear sightlines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation," the university said. "Participants will often adjust window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain.”
Space is important in the signing world. Standing at a distance to maintain clear visual communication where signers can see facial expression and the full dimension of the signer’s “signing space” is one difference. Additionally, proper lighting that provides a soft, diffused light “attuned to deaf eyes” is vital. Color on the walls and surroundings in a building is used to contrast skin tone to highlight sign language and “facilitate visual wayfinding.” And acoustically, deaf spaces should be designed to reduce reverberation and other sources of background noise or echo due to hearing device distraction.
It becomes imperative that the spaces inhabited by the Deaf are reflective of the community’s needs, while advocating for personal safety and overall well-being.
Since 2005, the DeafSpace Project—led by architect Hansel Bauman—alongside the ASL Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University has developed a set of guidelines: a catalogue of more than 150 DeafSpace architectural design elements that address the five major touch points between deaf experiences and the built environment: space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color and acoustics.
These technical elements complement LEED guidelines and structures and joined forces in the 2012 development of the first official DeafSpace and LEED-certified building on campus: The Living and Learning Residence Hall 6 (LLRH6).
The building is the second LEED-certified on campus. The James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Center (SLCC), completed in 2008, was the university’s first green building. Both LLRH6 and SLCC feature water-saving and high-efficiency fixtures; recycled and regional content and materials; and mechanical (HVAC), electric, and plumbing systems installed with a focus on efficiency and controllability.
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Companies: U.S. Green Building Council