[Nfbc-info] Blind Oakland Archetect

Bryan Bashin bashin at calweb.com
Wed May 20 20:56:16 UTC 2009


Let's do it.  I know Chris is hungry for contact with other blind 
archetects  and would welcome the connection.  Can you give 
me  Steve's contact information or I can send Chris to him, whatever 
you would like.

At 11:21 PM 5/19/2009, you wrote:
>That's amazing.  That's the second blind arcetecht I have heard of 
>in two weeks.  I'd like to get Chris and Steve Gray (San Francisco) 
>together. Bryan, can you help?
>----- Original Message ----- From: "Bryan Bashin" <bashin at calweb.com>
>To: "NFBC Info at NFBNet" <nfbc-info at nfbnet.org>
>Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 9:31 PM
>Subject: [Nfbc-info] Blind Oakland Archetect
>>I thought many of you might be interested to learn about the 
>>progress of Chris Downey, a new blind guy, and a student of 
>>LisaMaria martinez, among others.  Chris will be mentoring at this 
>>summer's NFB Youth Slam.
>>Sudden sight loss drives architect to aid blind
>>Sam Whiting, Chronicle Staff Writer
>>Saturday, May 2, 2009
>>Fifteen months ago Chris Downey was just another green architect, 
>>based in Oakland.
>>Now he has an expertise that separates him from every other 
>>architect in the Bay
>>Area and all 20,000 attendees at this week's American Institute of 
>>Architects' National
>>Convention in San Francisco.
>>Architect Chris Downey reads drawings that have raised fi...
>>Downey walks through his office with the aid of his cane.
>>  View Larger Images
>>Downey, 46, is a blind architect dedicated to planning buildings 
>>for blind people,
>>a niche brought about by his sudden loss of sight after surgery.
>>"It is actually pretty exciting," says Downey, as he sits in a 
>>drafting room, like
>>everybody else at SmithGroup Inc. in the Financial District. Then 
>>he rises to 6 feet
>>4, grabs a white cane with one hand and reaches out with the other, 
>>grasping for
>>something to shake. "For someone who likes problem solving, this is 
>>quite a challenge,"
>>says Downey, who has been working up floor plans in braille to 
>>submit to blind clients
>>overseeing the design of a new blind rehab center at the Veterans 
>>Affairs center
>>in Palo Alto.
>>"It's a question of how do you design an environment for people 
>>that aren't going
>>to see it?" Right. But there is one question before that. As he 
>>puts it, "Blind architect.
>>What a preposterous idea. How does that work?"
>>The answer starts with a benign tumor that had slowly encircled the 
>>of optic nerves. The tumor began to push the nerves out of 
>>position, and that's when
>>Downey couldn't follow the flight of a baseball as he played catch 
>>with his son,
>>Renzo, now 11, at home in Piedmont. Next Downey was hitting stuff 
>>in the road, during
>>the 100 miles he'd do weekly on his bicycle. Still, he could get 
>>his work done with
>>the aid of glasses. His eyeballs looked fine, but an MRI revealed a 
>>golf-ball-size growth causing the blind spots.
>>"If it weren't for playing baseball with my son and riding my bike, 
>>who knows when
>>I would have figured it out," he says.
>>Because of the tumor's proximity to the optic nerve, radiation 
>>treatment to shrink
>>it was not an option. He had surgery on St. Patrick's Day 2008 to 
>>try to correct
>>his vision, even though he was aware that it was risky and might not work.
>>Downey's father, a physician, had died of complications from brain 
>>surgery at 36,
>>so waking up after the procedure at all made Downey feel "pretty 
>>darn lucky." Luckier
>>still that he had blurry vision, as expected. "It was amazing," he 
>>recalls. "It was
>>a 9 1/2-hour procedure, and the next day I was up walking around."
>>When he awoke on the second day, his field of vision had been cut 
>>in half horizontally,
>>as if the water were at eye level in a swimming pool. By the third 
>>day he'd lost
>>vision in the top half, too. It varied from dark to light for five 
>>days, then it
>>faded to black.
>>"I lost my sight," says Downey, who knew going in that this was a 
>>risk. "But I came
>>out pretty darn healthy, with the exception of the sight."
>>He accepted blindness right away. What he could not accept was the 
>>advice of a social
>>worker who came in and immediately started discussing a career 
>>change. Every step
>>he had taken since junior high in Raleigh, N.C., had been toward 
>>becoming an architect.
>>He had seven years of schooling into it, topped by a master's 
>>degree from UC Berkeley
>>in 1992. Since then, he had designed aquariums, libraries, 
>>theaters, stores and homes.
>>He tried returning to the job he'd started a few months before he 
>>became ill, but
>>was laid off before Christmas. He searched the Internet, and found 
>>one blind architect
>>in Lisbon, Portugal, and a guy who works as a forensic architect, 
>>investigating failures
>>in buildings. That was it.
>>On a whim he called Patrick Bell, a business adviser to 
>>architecture firms, and that's
>>when Downey finally got some decent Irish luck. As it happened, 
>>Bell was working
>>with a firm called the Design Partnership, which is doing a joint 
>>venture with SmithGroup
>>to design a 170,000-square-foot Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation 
>>Center for the
>>Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System. Bell made the 
>>connection, and
>>Downey was hired as a contract architect.
>>"It's the first time any of us have dealt with even a 
>>sight-impaired architect, let
>>alone one who is blind," says Kerri Childress, VA spokeswoman. 
>>"It's really been
>>beneficial having an architect who is blind working on a facility 
>>to serve the blind."
>>The design phase runs through July. From there, Downey has been 
>>invited to serve
>>as a mentor to blind high school students at a weeklong event this 
>>summer in Maryland.
>>(He's also back to cycling on a tandem bike with his buddy 
>>steering, and is up to
>>60 miles in the Oakland hills.) And he wouldn't mind addressing 
>>next year's AIA convention
>>in Miami.
>>"I was always nervous in front of crowds," says Downey, "but now 
>>that I can't see
>>them, I think it will make it easier."
>>E-mail Sam Whiting at
>>swhiting at sfchronicle.com
>>This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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