Design with the Blind in Mind
Putting a new perspective into my practice
A blind architect, Chris Downey, lost his sight at the age of 45. He had a near perfect vision before the surgery to remove the brain tumor took his eyesight in three days. He was a successful architect, assistant little league coach and cyclist. What if we lose our sights all of a sudden? It is insurmountable enough that we’re gone crazy, not being able to accept the reality. This means that we can no longer be able to see our family, relatives, and friends again. It will be impossible to run and ride a bicycle to see the beautiful scenery along the river. Movies on weekends will no longer be a choice to have fun. Our family will not see the traveling as an option to spend holidays. All in all, it is terrifying.
Mr. Downey accepted his reality and with a solid determination he took it to the next level. He is now a better architect. A lot of people need his advice as a designer, a consultant and a human being. He went through a tough training to reset his life to realize other profound sensors such as smelling, feeling, tasting, and hearing. It is perhaps better to describe that he shaped other senses. He advances what he calls multisensory architecture. His approach has been applied to Duke University Hospital, Microsoft, and World Expo 2020 in Dubai. It is amazing enough to find that he became more performing as an architect than before a loss. If I were in his situation, I would be in despair, perhaps drinking, cursing, and complaining of what on earth comes onto me. It would deprive me of a huge freedom. How in the world is he so strong to face the unbearable and overwhelming challenge?
Mr. Downey says at his TED stage that the creative process is an intellectual process. He does not like the idea of the able versus the disabled or the sighted versus the blind. His new perspective is in the circle of the realistic community where the blind who find something and the blind who have not found it yet. In the blind community, everyone is an equal opportunity provider. The community is inclusive, not exclusive. The sound is inclusively accepting where the sight is gone. It is much more caring than being indifferent as the subtlety of the sound is the medium for the communication. It is a form of design.
Humans are multisensory. Being blind, he says, you can hear the building and the space. The sighted would never express it in such a way. Instead, they say that they can see the building and the space. “The sight is the most detached sense”, he says. Other senses are more profound. He became able to see the subtlety of sounds, which talk to him from street to street in San Francisco. In fact, I think we rely on the sight too much. While the sounds reach our ears with no intention, the sight can be immediately replaced by the next one.
From his discovery, I learned to apply his perspective to my meditation practice. I went to a huge temple this week. In fact, I have been there once a month in 2018 to calm down and sat there with monks reading the text in a dim light for hours. It worked very well because the effect of mindfulness started to appear. After the practice, I feel much composed and relaxed. Less stress and better performance on work came to happen. But the practice took long hours to do. It takes half a day so I want to do it without going to the temple so often.
What I realized is that I could do the meditation with sounds. Probably the sight inside the temple may not be as large effect as hearing. What I see during the meditation is mostly the same. Some people don’t bother as they sat still with their eyes closed. What I hear during the teaching is bell, reading, and Japanese drum. It is strange enough that no matter how large the sounds go, they don’t bother me at all. So my theory is this. It is the sound in the temple which has the most healing effect on me as the time goes by. If I can be sensory like Chris Downey, it has the similar effect on my practice of meditation. I might have forgotten the purity of the sounds for a long, long time. One day I hope I can hear the temple and the space, too.