In September 2015, Gallaudet University, located in the heart of Washington, D.C., launched an international two-stage design competition to create a new campus gateway and redefine its urban edge as a vibrant, mixed-use, creative and cultural district.

The project will transform the campus and its surrounding community, positioning the area as a focal point for the U.S. capital’s newly emerging creative economy.

Gallaudet University is the only bilingual liberal arts university in the world where education and research programs for deaf and hard of hearing students are conducted in American Sign Language (ASL) and English. The University benefits from an historic 99 acre campus, which is close to the Capitol, the U.S. National Arboretum, and the White House. The core of this was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (known for New York’s Central Park) in 1866.

The Gallaudet University International Design Competition encompasses the design of an Exemplar Building on the corner of Florida Avenue and 6th Street – a new landmark, mixed-use facility for the University – as well as development of the public realm along the edge of the 6th Street development. This will integrate the campus with the vibrant urban fabric of a wider regeneration project within Washington, D.C., including the emerging Florida Avenue Market area, whilst ensuring the Gallaudet campus remains a haven for the deaf and signing community. This is adjacent to some of the city’s fastest growing and most dynamic mixed-use neighborhoods in NoMa and the H Street corridor.

Throughout its 150-year history, Gallaudet has served as both a premier academic institution and an internationally recognized center for Deaf Culture.

Historically, the term ‘deaf’ has been associated with the loss of hearing and is commonly viewed by society in general as a limiting disability. Today, Gallaudet is at the center of an emerging renaissance known as Deaf Gain: a paradigm shift that changes the emphasis from hearing loss to the ‘unique cognitive, creative, and cultural gains manifested through deaf ways of being in the world.’ 1

Honoring Deaf Culture’s belief in the value of engagement, the University actively involved students, stakeholders, and local participants in the project and incorporated their suggestions in the detailed specification of requirements.

Both the ensuing project and the parent regeneration initiative will be run by Gallaudet University in partnership with The JBG Companies, who are experienced in collaborating with renowned global architects.

The challenge offered by the competition is fascinating: expressing Gallaudet’s distinctive culture and heritage through design, and creating a memorable destination within one of the world’s great capital cities.

Gallaudet Goals

  • Concentrate campus life in the center of campus. Activities on 6th Street and the public realm design should enhance, promote and protect the signing culture on campus.
  • Ensure student success – 6th Street development should advance recruitment, academic offerings, career preparation and social and community-building.
  • Showcase and catalyse Gallaudet’s contribution to the world – enhance and protect Gallaudet’s brand presence on 6th Street.
  • Position Gallaudet as a leader in DeafSpace, human-centred design and sustainability.
  • Build a unique, pedestrian-focused, mixed-use community with a unique sense of place to enhance the quality of life in the local community.

1. H-Dirksen L. Bauman and Joseph J. Murray, Deaf Gain, An Introduction, pp xv, Deaf Gain Raising The Stakes For Human Diversity.