Overlooking San Francisco’s UN Plaza and with sweeping views of City Hall and downtown, the new LightHouse for the Blind building is a singular architectural landmark – unprecedented in the world of blindness and social service organizations. Complete with short-term residential facilities, extensive training and community spaces, and state-of-the-art technological advancements, the New LightHouse is worth a visit. Below are several pieces that tell the story of our new building and its design.
Every element of the design—from circulation to lighting to mechanical equipment and the tactile and acoustic properties of surface materials—was shaped to the advantage of users whose visual challenges and compensating skills span an enormous range. The perceptions that LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin most wanted to upend were those of new clients and their supporters. “Bryan wanted a space that was uplifting, not a woe-is-me experience,” said Mark Cavagnero, whose San Francisco–based firm was selected by a design committee as the architect for the $13 million project. Even so, the environment couldn’t be so “soft and gentle,” says Cavagnero, that clients would be unprepared for the hard corners of the real world. The LightHouse also had an extremely unusual resource in Chris Downey, a successful Bay Area architect who became blind during an operation to remove a brain tumor in 2008. Downey, who immediately decided to continue in his chosen career, joined the LightHouse board in 2009 and is now its president.
The cement floor is intentionally bare so that the sound of footsteps falling and canes tapping informs you that the space is full of life. If your hand were to graze against the furniture in the lobby, the material would be soft to the touch, as would the smooth wooden handrail to guide you up and down the staircase.
Arup group: “Design by ear: The New LightHouse for the Blind” – Our acoustical designers on how they made the building sonically beautiful: