Vision and touch are the primary means of spatial awareness and orientation for most deaf people. Many use sign language, a visual-kinetic mode of communication, and maintain a strong cultural identity built around these sensibilities and shared life experiences.

The principles of DeafSpace

Our built environment, which has largely been 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. Through these daily acts of customization, deaf people construct DeafSpace— a combined architectural aesthetic and design process expressive of deaf sensibilities.

When Deaf people congregate, the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a ‘conversation circle’ to allow clear sightlines so that everyone can participate in the visual conversation. These gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain.

Deaf homeowners often cut new openings in walls and place mirrors and lights in strategic locations to extend their sensory awareness and maintain visual connection between family members.

The DeafSpace Design Guidelines are intended to guide and inspire the design of environments for deaf people that are completely responsive to, and expressive of, their unique ways of being.
Hansel Bauman, Executive Director, Campus Design and Planning, Gallaudet University

These practical acts of making a DeafSpace are long-held cultural traditions that, while never-before formally recognized, are the basic elements of an architectural expression unique to deaf experiences. The study of DeafSpace offers valuable insights about the interrelationship between the senses, the ways in which we construct the built environment, and a cultural identity from which society at large has much to learn.

Since 2005, the DeafSpace Project, a novel partnership between the Department of ASL/Deaf Studies and campus architect Hansel Bauman, has developed the DeafSpace Design Guidelines, a catalog of over one hundred and fifty distinct DeafSpace architectural patterns. The Guidelines address the three major touch points between deaf experiences and the built environment:

  • Visual Language and Architecture
  • Sensory Reach, Wayfinding and Architecture
  • Deaf Culture and Architecture

Since the beginning of the DeafSpace Project, numerous new buildings and renovations have been constructed using the DeafSpace Guidelines. This competition will be the first time DeafSpace Guidelines are applied to the public realm.

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Gallaudet TedX Talk: DeafSpace: A New Architecture for a More Livable and Sustainable World