At first glance, little sets Gallaudet University’s newest dormitory apart from new construction projects on other campuses. But look a little closer, and you begin to notice subtle design features that make it easier for deaf students to communicate visually: better natural lighting, wider corridors and surfaces that minimize distracting vibrations. We examine the new architectural framework of “DeafSpace,” how design elements in buildings can be manipulated to make built environments more accessible.


  • Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
  • Robert Sirvage Adjunct Professor of ASL and Deaf Studies, Gallaudet University
  • Hansel Bauman Director of Campus Design and Planning, Gallaudet University

Photo Gallery

The Living and Learning Residence Hall 6 is Gallaudet University’s newest DeafSpace building, residence hall and collaboration space. Sorenson Language and Communication Center opened in 2008 and is the first DeafSpace building on campus. All photos courtesy Gallaudet University. Renderings courtesy LTL Architects / Quinn Evans Architects.


  • 12:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. From the outside, the new buildings at Gallaudet University look like any other new structure on a college campus. But look at a little closer, and you start to notice subtle differences designed to make it easier for deaf students and faculty to use these spaces.

  • 12:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWindows and natural lighting are used to brighten spaces but also offer subtle visual cues when someone enters or leaves a room. Hallways and automatic doors are designed so signing students can keep their eyes on each other rather than obstacles and blind turns. Walls are painted in colors that maximize visibility across distances. Gallaudet is pioneering a new approach to accessible architecture and design called DeafSpace.

  • 12:07:52

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe idea is to create a new built environment that makes it easier to communicate and hopefully eliminate the daily annoyances that often frustrate deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Joining us to discuss this is Roger Lewis. He is a regular. He's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Roger, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:19

    MR. ROGER LEWISLikewise. Thank you.

  • 12:08:20

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Hansel Bauman, director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University. Hansel Bauman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:30

    MR. HANSEL BAUMANThank you, Kojo. It's nice to be here.

  • 12:08:32

    NNAMDIAnd with us in studio is Robert Sirvage. He is a professor of ASL and deaf studies at Gallaudet University. Robert Sirvage, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:45

    PROF. ROBERT SIRVAGEA pleasure to be here. Thank you.

  • 12:08:46

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Today's broadcast is a little different than our usual show. We've got two interpreters joining us. We're also live captioning the broadcast on our website,, courtesy of Courtroom Connect. We're hoping to learn more about the ways the built environment affects the deaf community, and we'll be taking emails and tweets during the entire hour using the #GallaudetKojo.

  • 12:09:19

    NNAMDIAgain, you can call us at 1-8004438850. You can send email to, send us a tweet using that #GallaudetKojo or simply go to our website,, and join the conversation there. Robert Sirvage, these principles are new in the sense that Gallaudet has begun writing them down, but these are also ideas that have been around for a long time. Many families who use American Sign Language have always knocked down walls and painted them specific colors. Does that sound a little bit like your family growing up?

  • 12:09:58

    SIRVAGEYes. Yes, indeed, it does. In fact, when I was some 13 years old, my father decided it was time to do renovation on our 1970s ranch-style home. And a number of walls were taken down. And when I was 13, I remember asking my parents why they were doing it. And they wanted to make sure that my sister and I -- my sister also happens to be deaf -- that they wanted to make sure that we grew up in an environment where we felt part of the family. And that was one of my first exposures to DeafSpace.

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIOf course, Robert's family is hearing, and, as he pointed out, that's one of the earliest exposures he had to DeafSpace. Roger Lewis, you actually sat on the panel that judged the different plans proposed by architectural forms for Gallaudet's newest dorm. On the one hand, we're talking about specific things that architects are doing for deaf clients, but, on a certain level, good design is good design, right? Are these things we would recognize immediately, or are there -- are they somehow more subtle?

  • 12:10:57

    LEWISI think if you took someone into the dormitory that's just been completed and didn't tell them anything about it, they would not perceive, they would not realize that there have been these DeafSpace considerations brought into the design of the building. The building -- I've been through the building, and I should, by the way, point out that Hansel also is an architect.

  • 12:11:19

    NNAMDIOh, yeah, we'll be getting to that in a second.

  • 12:11:21

    LEWISI should mention that.

  • 12:11:22

    LEWISSo there are two architects in the room...

  • 12:11:23


  • 12:11:23

    LEWIS...which means there probably are five opinions. No, I think that the dorm -- one of the wonderful things about the dormitory -- in fact, the campus as a whole -- is, unless you know that -- what -- who the constituency is, you might think it's like any other campus anywhere, and the dormitory that's just been built really is not something that shouts this is for deaf people.

  • 12:11:47

    NNAMDIHansel, the newest building at Gallaudet is called the living and learning resident hall. I tried to give a sense of some of the unique design features, but would someone walking into the building off the street recognize this as a building for deaf and hard-of-hearing people? And exactly how do you define DeafSpace?

  • 12:12:06

    BAUMANYeah, Kojo. I would say, as Roger said, I think it would be difficult to tell right off the bat that it would be specifically designed for deaf individuals. Although this is what's so magical about the idea of DeafSpace, is it's really about nuance. It's about the sensitivity and awareness to some of the most simple sort of fundamental relationships between human experience and space. For example, in the building, we pay an awful lot of attention to not only openness but sight lines.

  • 12:12:40

    BAUMANIt's not good enough just to have an open public room. But the main room called the terrace lounge is this beautiful room that steps down with multiple terraces. It matches the natural grade of the site. It also provides for dividing a large room into several smaller spaces, where students have great visual accessibility.

  • 12:13:01

    BAUMANAnd it also allows for a room to become used as one auditorium. So there are some really beautiful ideas around visual accessibility, around dimensions of space, around light and color, all these nuances that often get overlooked that we pay a lot of attention to that really make it DeafSpace.

  • 12:13:20

    NNAMDILet's suspend disbelief for a few moments and imagine me as a college coed sitting in my dorm and studying a psychology book at my desk. At any given moment, my brain is processing a huge stream of information from all of my senses, often unbeknownst to me. If I can hear a door closing or a creaky floor, it may tip me off that somebody has entered the room.

  • 12:13:44

    NNAMDIBut that's just one of hundreds of things that tip me off about my surroundings. I also notice small changes in light, tiny vibrations in the floor surface, subtle breezes and crosswinds. Can you design a space that maximizes those other senses?

  • 12:14:01

    BAUMANOh, absolutely. And that's, I think, one of the things that's really coming out of the work, a lot of the research that Robert is doing and others and myself at Gallaudet. We're finding, actually, that these strategies for allowing just subtle muted sort of shadows, reading shadows on walls for instance, or a shift in a quality of light in a room or how a wood floor might propagate vibration under -- even under walls and into adjacent rooms, these are all really excellent sort of architectural ways to give a sense of movement of others.

  • 12:14:39

    BAUMANWe call it sensory reach. It's the way in which the building becomes almost an extension of the human body in a way that it allows for a greater sensory connection to those around you.

  • 12:14:52

    NNAMDIHansel Bauman joins us in studio. He is an architect and director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University. Roger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington post. He's professor emeritus of architecture of the University of Maryland, College Park. And Robert Sirvage is professor of ASL and deaf studies at Gallaudet University. If you'd like to join the conversation, if you have questions or comments for us, you can call us at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to

  • 12:15:24

    NNAMDIYou can send us a tweet using the #GallaudetKojo. Are you a member of the deaf community or the Gallaudet community? How would you assess the built environment around the Washington area as it currently exists, or how have you rearranged or renovated your own home or workspace to make it easier to communicate? 800-433-8850 or you can send us that tweet at #GallaudetKojo.

  • 12:15:49

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage, hearing people may not realize just how many different obstacles of a poorly conceived building or narrow sidewalk present to deaf people. Can you talk about why this idea of DeafSpace is necessary?

  • 12:16:10

    SIRVAGECertainly. First of all, DeafSpace, as a notion, brings to the fore underlying questions that regard all architecture, all design. And in the end, it should be about how this all supports the fabric of the community. How does it encourage that community fabric? Smaller hallways for deaf people mean that you're unable to navigate the hallway maintaining eye contact and continuing your conversation naturally as you navigate through that path.

  • 12:16:45

    SIRVAGEThat creates a disconnect in that space. So there are a number of things like that where we look at materiality, where we look at how it supports connection and relationships. And all of these things benefit equally any hearing person within that space because a hearing person can't look at another while navigating that same space that requires single-file movement.

  • 12:17:06

    NNAMDIThings that those of us who are hearing never tend to think about. Roger Lewis and Hansel Bauman, over the last few years, many architects and technologists have developed principles called universal design. The basic idea is that if you design a smartphone or a building with the goal of making it usable for people with some kind of disability, you could end up with a product that is completely usable for everyone. Does DeafSpace fall under that umbrella?

  • 12:17:33

    LEWISAbsolutely. I mean, the notion, the ideal in universal design is to design environments that are truly accessible and usable and comfortable for all population segments. And that's -- I think we're getting closer to it. I don't think we're there yet, but we're getting closer to it.

  • 12:17:50

    LEWISIf you think about all the various impairments, if you will, or challenges that we face related to age, related to physical condition, as well as to senses in particular, you can imagine how much of a challenge that is to make, let us say, a kitchen or an automobile or any other structure, anything built, that really would work for every segment of the population.

  • 12:18:22

    LEWISBut we're working toward that. I think that universal design is something we are aspiring to achieve, and that -- and I include in that being sustainable about it, you know, not only making it universally accessible but also doing it in a way that doesn't waste energy and resources.

  • 12:18:40

    NNAMDIHansel Bauman, same question to you.

  • 12:18:42

    BAUMANYeah. I would agree with much of what Robert is saying but maybe take a slightly different tact. I think, as an architect, sort of in a way sort of being allowed to look in from the outside into the deaf experience, as a professional, I almost wonder if, in fact, DeafSpace doesn't offer something different than universal design. Rather than being universe -- about universality, I think it's a lot about being particular. It's about paying close attention to very particular situations and having a closer contact with that world around you.

  • 12:19:18

    BAUMANWhat that -- where that's really different, I think, than universal design is it opens up the question about the design process itself. In DeafSpace, it's really about paying attention and taking the time and the care to position a particular window in a particular room in a way that supports visual communication and a particular sort of desired kind of quality of an environment.

  • 12:19:42

    BAUMANSo, yes, it is about universal design for access, but it's even more -- I think it's even more so about the quality of building community like Robert talked about and really about an environmental quality that provides a sense of wellbeing for people.

  • 12:19:57

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage, that leads me to ask you about some of the more interesting things you are finding in your research about DeafSpace.

  • 12:20:09

    SIRVAGENow, first -- prior -- before I get to that, I want to go back to this concept of universal design for a moment. Universal design, as I understand it, is a conception of design that has been around for the last 30 years, and it's been an evolving concept. With DeafSpace, I see it as a contribution to that continued development. But with DeafSpace, it's distinct from universal design in that the goal of universal design is access, whole and entire, how a person gets from point A to point B through a space.

  • 12:20:44

    SIRVAGEDeafSpace is much more of an open question. And it's also about aesthetics and the philosophy of what that aesthetic is in relation to access of people. And that concept, I think, gives more sophistication, if you will, to universal design.

  • 12:21:02

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will be continuing this conversation. Today's broadcast is a little different than our usual show. We're discussing architecture and the deaf community, and we have two interpreters joining us. We're also live captioning the broadcast on our website,, courtesy of Courtroom Connect. As I said earlier, we are hoping to learn more about the ways the built environment affects the deaf community.

  • 12:21:24

    NNAMDISo we'll be taking your emails at -- you can email us at Your tweets, you can use the #GallaudetKojo. Or simply call us, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:35

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on architecture and the deaf community. We're talking with Robert Sirvage. He is a professor of ASL and deaf studies at Gallaudet University. Hansel Bauman is director of campus design and planning at the university. And Roger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park.

  • 12:23:59

    NNAMDIWe're interested in taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website,, where you can find images there of the new Living and Learning Resident Hall at Gallaudet University. On to the telephones. Here is Greg in Glen Burnie, Md. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:24:20

    GREGHi. Hey, thanks for taking my call. This is kind of -- it's along the same lines as DeafSpace per se, but it's not necessarily with architecture. My aunt is deaf. She has been her whole life. She lives in Montana. And I was just recently visiting her, and she remarked to me how she just enjoys going out into Glacier National Park, sitting down on a rock and reading a book. And my first thought to her was, how on Earth are you going to know if one of these big cats or that the bears that are out there or something dangerous is stalking you?

  • 12:24:54

    GREGAnd she's thinking about getting a gun more so for threats from humans. But -- and so it got me thinking about -- is, you know, with your panel and with the school that they have worked with, is there -- how feasible would it be to design almost, like, a little personal radar for folks that are extremely hard-of-hearing or profoundly deaf to where they would know if something of a certain size was coming into their area?

  • 12:25:25

    GREGAnd just based on what you guys have been talking about with, you know, the technology with this new building, I thought, like, well, gosh, these would be the guys to talk to about this. So that's all I have. You know, lay it on me.

  • 12:25:40

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage, I'll start with you. It seems as if the building is that radar.

  • 12:25:48

    SIRVAGEWell, technically, almost anything could be created. But this does call to mind the need to look at some interesting questions, such as, as long as humans have walked the earth, there have always been deaf people. From time in memorial, there have been deaf people. And if we think back to when we still lived in jungles, how did we survive? How did we persist? So in talking with a deaf person who grew up in Africa and lived in the rainforest -- real rainforest, mind you -- not an urban person at all, I had a conversation with a deaf person from that environment, and I asked the same question.

  • 12:26:29

    SIRVAGEHow do you know what predators might be in your environment? And their answer was, I can smell danger. So if we look into it -- and I didn't look that much further into it at the moment, but in finding out more about this, they have grown up in a particular environment where they have learned the skills needed to survive in that environment.

  • 12:26:52

    SIRVAGEYou would sit with an object or an obstruction to your back, not to your fore so that you can observe the environment. You pay attention to the sounds and the rest of your sensory reach to understand your environment. And there's interesting analysis in that. Certainly, we could create a technique for that, but sign language is a technique that we've created for communication. There are apps that you might create for just such a device. Maybe you'll be a millionaire if you invent it.

  • 12:27:18

    NNAMDIHansel Bauman, how does safety fit into these design principles?

  • 12:27:24

    BAUMANWell, the question that the caller made is actually a very interesting one because, in many ways, there is sort of that pre-historic sense of safety of the human being in the wilderness that we look at, which is the body placed with the back against a solid sort of object providing a sense of safety and yet set out in front of the landscape with a wide-open view ahead so that you understand the movement of others. That model, in and of itself, has become a way in which we think about designing rooms.

  • 12:27:58

    BAUMANWe create -- try to create a balance of enclosure around rooms but yet provide sort of thresholds at the entry of rooms that allows for the subtle transition of light and of -- even of vibration in the sun and try to do this is subtle ways, not really obvious ways. You could imagine transom windows that were very popular in the 1800s, are windows above doors that would really allow light and ventilation through buildings. Since the onset of air conditioning, those windows went away.

  • 12:28:37

    BAUMANBut we find in our older buildings, they're terrific means to allow for the awareness of the movement of others. And I think allowing that sense of seeing the movement of light or, as other professors at Gallaudet talk about, seeing auditory cues, seeing those auditory cues bounce off of walls through light and vibration is the way in which fundamental to the way we start thinking about designing our buildings.

  • 12:29:04

    NNAMDIRoger Lewis, we've talked in the past about building safe spaces. To what extent has that now become a general part of urban design?

  • 12:29:12

    LEWISWell, I think, it's a very big part. You know, we should point out that some of these risks are incurred by all people living particularly in urban environments. I mean, you can be walking along a sidewalk getting to a corner, an intersection and collide with someone coming at 90 degrees hitting you because you can't see around the corner. This doesn't happen very much.

  • 12:29:34

    LEWISFor example, in Barcelona, where all the corners have been cut at 45 degrees, so that you -- as you approach the corner, you actually will see somebody before you bump into them. I mean, that's a very -- I'm not suggesting that we should go through Washington and cut all the corners at a 45-degree angle because...

  • 12:29:52

    NNAMDISounds like a good idea to me, but go ahead.

  • 12:29:53

    LEWISWe call that a chamfer. But, for example, we mentioned earlier, we talked about the water corridor, and there are very subtle things one can do at all scales, including urban design and planning scales, that increase the safety for all the population, not just those who are physically impaired in some ways. So I think we are increasingly smarter about how to do that.

  • 12:30:18

    LEWISAnd -- but I think it's also important to remind everybody that a lot of the risks that you might run being hearing-impaired or deaf are also experienced by people who are -- who hear very well. I would suggest, you know, the -- that one's awareness of the environment, being aware of your environment is tantamount -- is key to understanding when you're safe or when you're at risk.

  • 12:30:43

    NNAMDIWhich suggests to me that wide sidewalks are good for everybody.

  • 12:30:47

    LEWISYeah, exactly.

  • 12:30:48

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Adrian in Fairfax, who writes, "I'm curious about the things built into this new building that would prevent a sensory overload for deaf or hard-of-hearing people with perhaps sensors that are more finely attuned than the individual who is not hearing impaired. What kind of things were put in place to prevent those kinds of irritations?" Hansel Bauman or Robert Sirvage.

  • 12:31:16

    SIRVAGEWell, that has been a major challenge, certainly. And we -- it takes -- taking a deeper look at all of these things and it requires looking at meaning, examining the meaning of the objects in space and in looking at space, looking also at the function of each part of that space. If we look at the function of a living room, the analysis of that looks at where the stimulus comes from in the room, and that requires being identified first before we design the living room.

  • 12:31:49

    SIRVAGEIf I'm sitting in the living room, reading a book and my focus is there, periodically, I would need to look and check around in my environment and see whether or not there's perhaps somebody walking down a stairwell. I need some way of accessing that information, identifying that that's happening in the environment. We want to keep that area open. Other areas aren't as important to have open access to.

  • 12:32:13

    SIRVAGESo we want to balance that stimuli so that we can relate to what's happening in the space around us and minimize the effort it takes to do so. Some of the strategies that we use for that in -- we look at a student studying, say, 100 pages that have to be read before tomorrow morning. Then the visual stimulus needs to be moderated so there's not so much visual stimulus that they're constantly having to check that environment.

  • 12:32:35

    SIRVAGESo, instead, we would replace that visual stimulus for awareness of the environment with a tactile one, the vibration to the floors. Somebody can know when somebody actually enters into their space. But we want to manage that and apply responsibility for specific stimulus to the design and how we've worked with the space. So there are tons of strategies that we could go into. In fact, we can take the program long into the night talking about those.

  • 12:33:01

    NNAMDII suspect you can, but we are only limited to an hour broadcast. So on to Milton is Washington, D.C. Milton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:33:12

    MILTONHi. I'm an architect and a professor at Catholic. And one of the things that I teach in a course is the relationship between cognition and perception of space, so that architects can understand that there's some neuroscience involved as well as form design. And there's a lot of parallels to what I'm hearing on the show, so it made me wonder how architects -- how the architects for this dormitory became knowledgeable enough to be able to design the space and thus the analogy.

  • 12:33:41

    MILTONI had my students do a project to design a house for a blind composer so that they could look at how other senses could be invoked to help some be oriented to space. And for them, it was like deer looking into a headlight initially until they found their ground, were able to do it. I'm wondering how that transition, if there was a transition that occurred, for the architect who design the dormitory.

  • 12:34:04

    NNAMDIOf course, Gallaudet is at the forefront of studying the science of senses. But did the companies that design and build these facilities have any previous experience working with deaf clients, Hansel Bauman?

  • 12:34:16

    BAUMANKojo, maybe what I should do just real briefly is this raises an interesting part of our project. And I think, really, a big part of DeafSpace is not just design itself as the caller kind of is talking about. It's also about process. And for this building, I think one of the most novel aspects of the building is the way in which we went about designing the building. The dormitory we're speaking mostly about today is actually the second building on the campus designed to DeafSpace principles.

  • 12:34:49

    BAUMANThe first building we did, we had some wonderful ideas, talented architects working on it, but the process by which we went through really did not enable just contact on face-to-face time where the architects had an opportunity to really work closely with the people using the building. We wanted to change that by creating a design-build competition. So we actually engaged four architectural teams to come in. They had six weeks to meet with all of our users.

  • 12:35:20

    BAUMANWhat that meant was there was extraordinary amount of interaction. So this really isn't hard science but rather sort of a much softer sort of approach that's really about connection and about relationships between those who are designing buildings and conceiving buildings and those who really innately already embody a kind of sense of what they want, what their world should be.

  • 12:35:44

    BAUMANSo what we've tried to do at Gallaudet is really create a place that transfers that innate awareness and sensitivity of the deaf community to professionals who have the train -- the training to bring buildings forth. So I would argue in many ways we had a terrific team of LTL architects in New York City and then also Quinn Evans here on Washington, D.C. They won the competition largely because of their willing -- of their sensitivity, their openness. And they really handed the pencil over to our attainment.

  • 12:36:17

    BAUMANAnd I think that's how it was through that process of relationship and sensitivity that that team really became sensitized to create the architecture that they did.

  • 12:36:27

    NNAMDIRoger Lewis, how unusual it -- is it to have an arrangement between architects and clients where the client is teaching the architect as things go along?

  • 12:36:36

    LEWISWell, it's not unusual at all. I mean, I would once again, in response to Milt's question -- hi, Milt. The -- it seems to me the process that was used at Gallaudet, in which I was a participant thanks to Hansel, was really a process that I would argue is pretty valuable, pretty useful, pretty constructive, designing any building, particularly a building for public use or for the use by more than just a single family. So I think it was a great effort that produced very favorable results.

  • 12:37:18

    LEWISI mean, I think, again, as I said at the top of the show, when you walk up to and into this building, I certainly, as a hearing architect, immediately recognize that as a building that students of the University of Maryland that I taught over the years could be just as happy in as Gallaudet students. So I -- and I think that is in part a reflection of the process that they went through to make this building that -- not only functionally very, very successful but also aesthetically quite successful.

  • 12:37:51

    NNAMDIMilton, thank you very much for your call. And you can see the images of the building if you go to our website, We got an email from Magolly, (sp?) who says, "This discussion is fantastic. Much of it has been about accommodating people's needs. Could the guests, please, comment on how deaf culture is expressed in this architecture?" Robert Sirvage.

  • 12:38:17

    SIRVAGESo how the culture is expressed in the architecture, well, there are number of examples, one being the discussion that we've had about the relationship to meaning, what it requires for people to connect with each other. So, for us, connection happens through visual mediums, being able to see each other as we converse. So designing spaces that are -- have larger passageways, that have larger environments that allow that visual connection to occur.

  • 12:38:44

    SIRVAGESo the color of paint, the choice of color and lighting are all designed to support that goal, that programming goal. So if we look at the terrace lounge in the new building, that is designed in such a way that it maximizes the use of the sun without allowing the sun to obstruct communication. So, again, that goes back to the connection with -- to our sense abilities, respects the work of our eyes in communication and respects our senses. So when one enters into that area, we've -- there's a sense, a bodily click, if you will, that just works with the building.

  • 12:39:22

    NNAMDIAnd we got a tweet from IMGoph, a.k.a. District Curmudgeon, who says "I love hearing my neighbor Hans on Kojo show talking about the college campus next door to my neighborhood." Since your neighbor decided to send us a tweet, Hansel, Gallaudet is located in a very interesting corner of Northeast Washington along the corridor that's now going through rapid transition. Do you think the architecture and design can be used to help integrate the community more into the local neighborhoods?

  • 12:39:53

    BAUMANOh, yeah. I -- that's one of -- I think one of the most exciting things that is going on for us, is, you know, there's a real interesting sort of kind of aligning of the stars, if you will, about what's happening on the Gallaudet campus around architecture. And then also that neighborhood, we're seeing a lot of changes as of last weekend with the opening of the Union Market in the 6th Street area.

  • 12:40:17

    BAUMANWe're seeing really the development to start to move into the neighborhood of some pretty unique uses. We see over time as that market area and the neighborhoods around the campus begin to transition, it's really an opportunity for us, I think, to really bring these DeafSpace ideas into the public domain. We've worked with the Office of Planning years ago when they did the Small Area Plan to begin to incorporate some of these ideas around public domain with sidewalks.

  • 12:40:49

    BAUMANThe ways in which actually storefronts would even be positioned are all many DeafSpace ideas that we see we can begin to incorporate into the neighborhood. And what that's doing is it's beginning -- it's like in any other major metropolitan area where you have sort of ethnic sort of communities within the larger area. I came from San Francisco, and I -- that richness of going to Chinatown and seeing the architecture, the smells, the language, all that is a rich experience.

  • 12:41:20

    BAUMANAnd then you go to other parts of San Francisco, and it's always part of the overall urban fabric. And I think maybe what's being created here is, in a sense, really a new kind of linguistic neighborhood within the District built around sign language.

  • 12:41:35

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on architecture on the deaf community, focusing on the new design center at Gallaudet University here in Washington. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to Send us a tweet using the #GallaudetKojo, or simply go to our website,, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:06

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on architecture and the deaf community. Today's broadcast is a little different from our usual show. We have two interpreters joining us. We're also live captioning the broadcast at our website,, where you can also see video of the Living and Learning Resident Hall at Gallaudet University. We're talking with Hansel Bauman, director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University.

  • 12:44:31

    NNAMDIHe's also an architect, as is Roger Lewis, who is the Shaping the City columnist with The Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. And Robert Sirvage, he's a professor of ASL and deaf studies at Gallaudet University. We got an email from Nathan, who writes, "In most public events today, ASL interpreters are often seen signing remarks and lyrics to audiences.

  • 12:44:57

    NNAMDI"In essence, it seems that accommodating the communication needs of the deaf has become the accepted norm in our society." Do you see DeafSpace as a natural progression from that direction? Do you think that we could see the DeafSpace concept integrated into public buildings outside Gallaudet's campus? Has it already begun, Roger Lewis?

  • 12:45:21

    LEWISI think so. I mean, we've seen it, for example, in recent years for people who are constrained in their sight, who can walk into an elevator or walk up to a restroom or walk up to a wall and feel the wording, the Braille signage that's there. Yes. I think -- in a way, I think that what is being done at Gallaudet, there's no reason why it can't be done everywhere. I mean, I keep looking at this dormitory, and I followed the design very closely.

  • 12:45:58

    LEWISAnd the things that have been done there have not -- did not add 30 percent to the construction costs. They were not technically difficult. They were -- off-the-shelf building materials have been used. I think it's -- I think in that sense, what's been done at Gallaudet has the potential to be universally applied to work for everybody as well as for the deaf. So I would -- I hope people could come out and see this building because I think they would be really impressed with the fact that it really is a building that anybody can be comfortable in.

  • 12:46:35

    NNAMDIBut, Hansel Bauman, we know about ramps to help people who have certain kinds of disabilities. If we're talking about people with sight disabilities, we think of Braille. But this conversation about DeafSpace seems to involve more subtle design features that might not be immediately obvious.

  • 12:46:57

    BAUMANYeah. That -- that's certainly true. I think the -- what we've done at Gallaudet since about 2005 is created a set of guidelines that looks at five areas. It's the dimension or proxemics between bodies that are involved in signing. It's that proxemics while those two bodies are in motion or walking. We look at also sensory reach, how the architecture helps one to perceive the world in a new way or in multiple sensory ways.

  • 12:47:35

    BAUMANWe also look at light, color, and also acoustics is also very important. So across the whole gamut of architectural considerations, I would say the DeafSpace ideas have an implication. It's never-ending amazement to me, walking the campus with Robert and others, about what becomes noticed, something that would completely -- I would completely overlook as a trained architect and the individuals who are signing will quickly notice.

  • 12:48:06

    BAUMANYou know, the sidewalk is shifting location up ahead or there's a branch from a tree that's in the way, and help one another kind of walk down that sidewalk. And what that begins to do -- what we start to realize is even how you trim the trees is important. Letting the light come in, that dappled light, is important. So I think, at the end of the day, what really is happening here is we're onto another lens through which to see architecture, much more sensitive and aware way of going about the practice of architecture.

  • 12:48:42

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage, how would you assess the other buildings on the Gallaudet campus? Many of them are quite old and presumably built before architects even thought about these ideas.

  • 12:48:55

    SIRVAGEWell, first of all, it's interesting to note that, yes, many of those buildings are much older, but there are lessons to be learned from those old buildings just as well. For example, prior to the advent of electric lighting, they really considered how the design of the room would take advantage of natural lighting, you know, great consideration. And that was an amazing lesson learned from those buildings and that history.

  • 12:49:24

    SIRVAGEOver time, it looks as though many of those lessons were forgotten by architecture, the ways in which we maximize natural lighting because of the reliance on electric lighting. So that's one lesson learned from those buildings. But, indeed, there are other things that were overlooked in the day. For example, in studying those buildings and discussing with others in the community why certain spaces remain inactivated, unused, we look into those spaces to find that the remarks are enlightening.

  • 12:49:55

    SIRVAGEThey tell us about the experience they have in that space, whether or not their experiences has one of the comfort benefit in that space or not, and that is further lessons for us.

  • 12:50:05

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones, Alfred in Arlington, Va. Alfred, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:12

    ALFREDYes. I was wondering if you guys -- I know you -- everyone's talking about this DeafSpace (unintelligible). But have you guys considered looking at other innovative ways of (unintelligible) video surveillance?

  • 12:50:25

    ALFREDFor instance, there's two different projects in Canada, one by the National Film Board of Canada called "Bear 71," which is a Web documentary based on a bear's perspective in the wildlife, where the digital -- the digital world begins, but, at the same time, it's more integrated as far as using a lot of cameras to pinpoint locations of different interactions with humans as well as wildlife. So a lot of wildlife were tagged and tracked in this application that you actually can monitor on it from a Web application.

  • 12:51:01

    ALFREDAnd at the same time, there's another company called Fortsum in Canada that actually has -- is a group of former game developers that uses video surveillance to create three-dimensional models in real time with the exception of some blind spots. And I believe that can be very detrimental as far as how we bring upon using a lot of technology to shape, you know, more of an augmented reality around campuses, around, you know, commercial buildings and the like. So I just want to know if you guys have looked into something like that.

  • 12:51:35

    NNAMDIHansel Bauman.

  • 12:51:37

    SIRVAGENow, actually, if I may speak to that first...

  • 12:51:39

    NNAMDIPlease do, Robert Sirvage.

  • 12:51:41

    SIRVAGE...because that actually leads perfectly into what I have really specialized my research into, looking at the challenges that DeafSpace presents in terms of how we evaluate and document the lessons learned here, how we capture the experience that we, as deaf people, have in these environments. And so -- and, by the way, you brought a large grin to my face because I, myself, am a Canadian from Ottawa, so...

  • 12:52:06

    NNAMDISo thanks a lot, Alfred.

  • 12:52:08

    SIRVAGESo in the research projects that I'm -- I've been engaged in, these research projects have looked at the GoPro technology, head-mounted cameras that can be worn while navigating a space. And we had groups of people actually navigate H Street here in D.C., which is a busy walkway. And what we did was ask two separate dyads to wear these GoPro cameras and navigate the space so that we could see where they looked, where they directed gaze.

  • 12:52:37

    SIRVAGESo we had one dyad that was a pair of hearing people who both wore the GoPros, navigated the space, and we compared that with another dyad of deaf people. Now, what we did is look at each person's video as captured, and then we were able to put on, side-by-side, those images to see where they looked, whether they were looking at each other and comparing that to assigning deaf dyad navigating the space wearing the same equipment. So every time we've shown that video, we find things that have been overlooked.

  • 12:53:03

    SIRVAGEIt's found -- brought amazing answers to questions that we've had. So this is part of the notion of DeafSpaces, that we have to -- right now, we're in the -- just the infancy of it and where it's burgeoning, but we have to look at the experimental tools and methodologies that we can use to actually capture this experience.

  • 12:53:21

    NNAMDIAlfred, thank you so much for your call. We move on now to Sandra in Washington, D.C. Sandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:29

    SANDRASure, Kojo. Hi. As I was listening, real quick, I was just curious as to how the architects solve the problem of comfort facilities without -- because so much of our cues, general public, are auditory.

  • 12:53:46

    NNAMDIHow did they solve the problem of what kinds of facilities?

  • 12:53:49

    SANDRAComfort facilities, restrooms.

  • 12:53:51

    NNAMDIOh, bathrooms, restrooms, the like.

  • 12:53:52

    SANDRARestrooms, yeah.

  • 12:53:55

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage.

  • 12:53:58

    SIRVAGEI'm sorry. What are the difficulties with comfort facilities that you're speaking of?

  • 12:54:05

    SANDRABeing able to knock, usually, you know, we hear flushing, water running, et cetera, so just in the numerous...

  • 12:54:16

    SIRVAGEWell, my solution is to turn on the lock, you know, and hearing people should use those locks as well. If it's unlocked, I should assume it's empty.

  • 12:54:24

    SANDRAAll right. OK.

  • 12:54:24

    NNAMDIIf you see feet under the stall, it's usually a pretty good clue.

  • 12:54:29

    SIRVAGEThere is another one for you right there. That's a great strategy.

  • 12:54:31

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got an email from Megan, who says, "I'm excited to learn about the new developments of Gallaudet University. I'm a student in museum studies with a focus on exhibition design and accessibility. Do you have any insight into incorporating some of these principles into temporary spaces, especially in museums?" Any thoughts on that, Roger Lewis?

  • 12:54:55

    LEWISWell, as I've said throughout this hour, I think the -- where we're headed is to sensitize the people who design things, whatever they are, temporary or permanent, to think about these issues to be -- I mean, so much of what we try and do, those of us who teach, is to -- is actually to sensitize students to be thinking about all the range of users and the range of needs. And I see no reason why a temporary facility shouldn't get just as much attention as something permanent.

  • 12:55:31

    LEWISI want to -- I think back to the restroom question. You know, there are an awful lot of restrooms around this world, which are very tight, small. I mean, I can't -- even now, there are restrooms in which -- when you open the door into the compartment, you bang into the toilet paper dispenser, you hit your knees, hit the -- I mean, what I'm -- what I keep wanting to tell you is that if you designed it well for people who are deaf, it'll actually be better for the people who are not deaf. There is an overlap.

  • 12:56:08

    LEWISThere is, I think, a wonderful fusion, if you will, of need satisfaction between what makes for good space, good environments for the deaf and what makes a good environment for those who are not deaf.

  • 12:56:21

    NNAMDIHere is -- oh, please go ahead, Robert Sirvage.

  • 12:56:23

    SIRVAGEAnd Hansel really has to tell you about his new bathroom design. He's got to. There is great, great lesson here learned from DeafSpace. Hansel?

  • 12:56:30

    NNAMDIHansel, are you keeping a secret from us?

  • 12:56:31

    BAUMANWell, it's not exactly what I was hoping would be the topic of this show, but...

  • 12:56:36

    NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, Hansel's bathroom.

  • 12:56:38

    BAUMANWe did -- we -- Robert, I'm going to get you for that. We did actually completely gut a bathroom -- you know, it's one of the Ward Monroe houses built in the 1930s and with a small, very small bathroom, like Roger is talking about. But we did open it up completely. And, you know, its connection to the rest of the house is done with frosted glass as a way to really allow for that, really, just natural light into a room that rarely gets natural light in those kind of houses. I think one other thing I just wanted to talk about, this question of temporary installations because...

  • 12:57:12

    NNAMDIYou only got about 30 seconds.

  • 12:57:13

    BAUMANAll right. I'll just say what's interesting about it is, in the deaf world, things shift all the time because you're always formulating architecture and seating in circles to get that visual communication. You're always dealing with light, which is a dynamic entity, so temporary is kind of the new permanent, in a way, at Gallaudet.

  • 12:57:30

    NNAMDIHansel Bauman is director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:34

    BAUMANThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:57:35

    NNAMDIRobert Sirvage is professor of ASL and deaf studies at the university. Robert Sirvage, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:42

    SIRVAGEThank you.

  • 12:57:43

    NNAMDIAnd Roger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Roger, always a pleasure.

  • 12:57:52

    LEWISThank you. It was a great program.

  • 12:57:54

    NNAMDILive captioning for today's conversation was provided by Courtroom Connect and That's S-P-E-C-H dot com. Special thanks to our intern Jessica Guzman, Kaitlin Luna at Gallaudet University and our interpreters, Adam Barkley and Carolyn Ressler. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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