Keynote Theatre

Chris Downey

Chris Downey

Empathetic Eyes: Design for Universal Delight

Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Time: 10:00AM - 11:00AM
Location: Keilhauer Keynote Theatre
Price: Free

Chris Downey

With 20 years of architectural practice before unexpectedly losing his sight in 2008, Chris Downey never considered giving up his practice, never doubted his ability to stay in the profession, and now finds more excitement, meaning, and fulfillment in his work than ever before. Leveraging his new disability as a unique strength, Chris now specializes in projects that are specific to or challenging for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Whether rehabilitation or transit centers, eye clinics, or museums, he designs environments that are accessible with particular care and focus on the non-visual experience. In all cases, Chris works toward integrated design solutions expressive of the principles of Universal Design. Noting, however, that we all aspire to more than a functional or accessible relationship to architecture, Chris prefers to push further toward "universal delight," regardless of how it is experienced and whether it is seen or not.

“... Often architects design just for the eyes but architecture is about being in a space, not just seeing it. It’s about using multisensory strategies to augment the visual experience.” Chris Downey, Globe and Mail. August 2016.

Chris's TED talk, "Design with the Blind in Mind," has been viewed over 925,000 times. Chris also teaches accessibility and Universal Design in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and is involved with two federally-funded research projects. He currently serves at the request of California Governor Jerry Brown on the California Commission on Disability Access and is the president of the board of directors for the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind.

Working as one of the few practicing architects without sight in the world, Chris has been featured in numerous media stories and speaks regularly about visual impairments, most recently the CBS Evening News in the US and in numerous articles in Canada regarding his work on the Canadian Institute for the Blind in Edmonton. Chris starts every day rowing and training with his competitive crew team on the Oakland Estuary before hopping onto a bus or BART train to head off to work in San Francisco.

The focus on inclusive design at IIDEXCanada includes the National Summit on Accessibility and a number of other seminars on building code and accessibility-related topics, plus a number of exhibitions with accessible products.



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San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind

10th floor reception looking west with the stairs in the background.
Chris Downey, design consultant to Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects.
Photo: Jasper Sanidad.

Board room interior with City Hall Dome.
Chris Downey, design consultant to Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects.
Photo: Jasper Sanidad.

Stair from 10th Floor with Scott Blanks Descending.
Chris Downey, design consultant to Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects.
Photo: Jasper Sanidad