DeafSpace architectural design elements aid visual communication and help reduce eye strain and fatigue for deaf and hard of hearing people. A new Living and Learning Residence Hall, dubbed LLRH6, is the second construction project incorporating DeafSpace at Gallaudet University (D.C.).
PROBLEM: Despite its history as a liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing, Gallaudet’s architecture “had not taken into account the spatial, cognitive, and cultural sensitivities” of that population, explains Director of Campus Design and Planning Hansel Bauman, who first worked at the university as an architect in 2005 and established the DeafSpace Project (DSP).
In conjunction with the ASL Deaf Studies Department, he oversaw development of the DeafSpace Guidelines, more than 150 distinct architectural design elements addressing space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics—the five major touch points between deaf experiences and the built environment. Within those categories are four key ideas: community building, visual language, the promotion of safety, and well-being.
SOLUTION: The first DSP facility project was the James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Center, built in 2008. A residence hall was the next step. The five-story LLRH6, occupied this August, has 60,000 square feet and can house 175 students. “LLRH6 expresses the unique deaf ways of being,” explains Bauman. “The building was designed to facilitate both planned and spontaneous forms of communication. We created the environment in a way that fosters interaction and self-expression.” Features include glass elevators, wide hallways, sliding entrance doors (to allow people conversing in sign language to enter a building), sloping entrances to avoid tripping hazards associated with stairs, neutral-colored walls, an abundance of windows and natural light, rounded corners, and unobstructed views. The common areas, or collaboration spaces, are open to the entire campus community, and Hansel explains that encouraging interaction in public spaces is about “strengthening the heart of the campus.” To that end, Gallaudet also completed extensive improvements to lobbies and upper level public spaces of all existing residence halls this summer. The upgrades include custom-built RA desks in the lobbies; new, more visible and spacious entry ways; and wood-panel ceilings.
COST: $16 million
PROJECT TEAM: LTL Architects of New York City (design architect), Quinn Evans Architects of Washington, D.C. (architect of record), SIGAL
Construction Corp. of Arlington, Va.