Multi-sensory Design; In Life and Architecture - The Design Alchemist
Multi-sensory Design; In Life and Architecture - The Design Alchemist
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Multi-sensory Design; In Life and Architecture

Multi-sensory Design; In Life and Architecture

If you have been following TDA’s social media platforms, thank you by the way, you will know that this month’s mantra is all about ‘resilience’.  Life surely comes with no map nor compass. What we know for certain is that everyone will experience roadblocks, pitfalls, shortcuts, twists and turns. From everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, each change affects us as people differently. Yet, thankfully, most of us generally can adapt well over time, this process of adapting in the face of trauma, life changes, significant stress … all resolve to defining the true essence of resilience.

In the world of design we are graced by the iconic and beguiled by starchitect. In this cosmos of innovation with ever-changing, boundary pushing women and men, when does the bar get raised even higher? When you are blind, and an architect. Yes, there are only a very few blind architects in this world, enter Chris Downey.

I was first introduced to Chris Downey long before his inspiring feature on 60 minutes. It was through a TEDTalks conference, and I would be remised to say that my eyes weren’t welled up in tears the entire time I was listening to him speak. Chris’ journey, his openness, his view on the world … profound.  His words typed here today, I will always remember: relating to the pattern of where you are and where you are headed … will share more later on why this specific quote has stayed with me. I sat in awe listening to how after successfully coming through a critical, massive surgery of removing a tumor, Chris quickly began to lose his sight during recovery. Someone on his medical staff inappropriately, in my opinion, shared their personal feelings on the future of Chris’ career as an architect and how, after his passion beginning around the age of 6, it would be inevitable that he should consider another profession. Darkness ensued, both in the literal sense and figuratively. However, inspired by the love of his family; feelings of fear, confusion, vulnerability was juxtaposed by Chris’ resounding feelings of gratitude. His fear of becoming blind was transposed into the gratitude he felt for being alive! Darkness became light. Light always has its way of permeating through … ah, resilience.

from LA TIMES, “Blind architect sports an upbeat vision”.

Chris’ own courageous journey moving through time and space has elevated his career in architecture to assist others in doing the same. Broadening the minds of those of us with sight whilst expanding the lives of the visually impaired – all through sighted and unsighted experiences. His revelation? “I wanted to meet the most effective, aggressive, and accomplished blind people that I could. It seemed important to have great mentors while also keeping the bar high relative to expectations and goals. The blind crowd had it down, with all sorts of pragmatic and philosophical advice. I was miffed that I had to lose my sight to meet them.” Compiling this insight and advice has created an exceptional portfolio of work for Chris. The eye center at Duke University Hospital, consulting for Microsoft, assisting in the design specifically for the visually impaired, of San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center – as well as sitting on the Board of Directors of LightHouse.

Like building any muscle, increasing resilience takes time and intentionality. Circling back around to Chris’ statement which resonated so much with me; realizing the pattern of where we are and where we are headed, is again – profound!!

How are any of us navigating the streets of uncertainty?

Are we standing still closed off, or walking open?

Are we paying attention to the symphony of sounds surrounding us, or drowning in the noise?

Are we seeing and feeling the warmth of the sunlight on our faces, or squinting through the brightness of the rays?


Taking the kindness of a gentle hand that wants to help, or dismissing it away? Connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning are core components of resilience that can be ours for the taking. In writing this week’s post, I am humbled and immediately reminded how Chris’ resilience can spark the greater meaning behind life’s twists and turns, empowering us to truly be the captains of our own road ahead but also the architects of our dreams. No map, no compass, no floorplan, or blueprint required. We are resilient.

“Realize the pattern of where you are and where you are headed” Chris Downey

~ M

Michelle Witherby
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