Archive for the ‘Special Needs Design’ Category

Design for the Multi-impaired; not your father’s hospital!   1 comment

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Design for the Multi-impaired; not your father’s hospital!

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Many subtleties were used to make this maintenance-free dormitory and school for the multiply impaired look like a residence and not a hospital; notice that the window side-lites look like shutters, notice the gabled roofs and copper gutters, and see how the use of porches, railings, and chimneys changes the scale and approachability of the building.

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When asked to design a prototype for a facility for multiply impaired children, Dennis Kowal Architects created a two-level house-like facility and even added a two car garage that acts as a covered ambulance transport during emergencies and as a weather-enclosed recreation room the remainder of the time.  The St. Joseph’s Sisters of Peace operate Concordia House as a school and dormitory for children with both blindness and other disabilities.  Their desire was a non-institutional building that provided warmth and comfort to the children and their visiting families.

A number of ground-breaking ideas were incorporated into the design including a two-tone wood trim way-finding which was stained to signal which floor you are on, touch and color panels to identify rooms when a child is unable to learn braille, and specially designed bathrooms that facilitate self-care.  A commercial kitchen serves the dining hall but the kitchen was conceived as a training kitchen as well, with low-height baking stations and a dine-in area for the students to enjoy.

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Ease of access and safety were high priorities in the design which has four grade exits, an elevator, and extra wide corridors. 

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The lattice theme and playful green tiles add a little fun to this facility for blind and disabled children.

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A welcoming interior is used by both family and students.  Some of the senses are stimulated by various themes such as the fireplace, exterior rain chains, an herb garden and a “greenhouse lobby”.

  05 new.These hospital-width corridors appear friendly due to the carpet patterns, wall sconces, and comforting wood trim.
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.For those with partial vision, dark stained doors identify the lower level and light doors with dark trim identify the upper level.  

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Inserts next to each bedroom door have uniquely different colors and textures so that the most severely impaired students can still identify their room.

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Natural light, plants, and a variety of locations to train for cooking, cleaning, and independent living are combined in this 17 bed facility.

 

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Dennis Kowal Architects is an advocate for the developmentally disabled and designs for their needs.

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Design for the Blind   2 comments

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Design for the Blind

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Designing for special needs clients is often misunderstood.  For one, there is no space today that is exclusively for the sighted or exclusively for the blind.  Buildings are for people with a variety of needs who have a variety of characteristics.  Therefore, the design must incorporate a mix of approaches.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS has been designing for the blind, physically handicapped, autistic, developmentally disabled, and learning disabled for 30 years and their completed work creates a friendly environment without shouting “special needs”.      “I learned a long time ago that blindness for most is just a characteristic like short or tall and it comes with its own challenges and limitations; but it is not necessarily a disability” says Dennis Kowal about his experiences with the many blind professionals who conduct rather normal lives.   The majority of the visually impaired get around without a white cane (less than 35% use a cane) or a guide dog (less than 3% use a guide dog).   As a person ages, there is a one in ten chance of major vision loss but then their needs may be different as they may no longer drive, go to school or work.

At the National Headquarters of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Dennis’ design was based on orthogonal geometry, the easiest navigation system.     Curves can disorient whereas ninety degree turns are easier to follow for someone with no vision.   That same person  composes a picture of the space from sensing the perimeter as opposed to walking into the middle and looking around as a sighted person might.  Therefore, the placement of furniture and removing obstacles at the perimeter became important to the design process.  Finally, acoustics also help compose the picture.  Large volumes sound different than small spaces or lower ceilings.  And just as too many colors is garish for the sighted, too many sounds can be annoying to the visually impaired.

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Cleanly designed edges with the minimum of obstacles are friendly to both the sighted and unsighted.

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The visually impaired enjoy the same things as everyone else;  fresh air, the warmth of the sun on their face,  and a glare-free environment.   Mechanical shades reduce glare and control the natural light in this lobby.

Since many will enjoy the cafeteria, a connection to the beautiful site through full height windows can still be enjoyed by many. Overhangs and the nearby woods itself  provide natural shading and sound panels in the ceiling control noise. 

Operable windows bring in fresh air to the office area and exterior shading devices allow  Daylight to brighten the interior without glare.

The wetlands were protected by separating the building from the parking lot with this boardwalk through the woods.   Both the sighted and unsighted enjoy a walk in the woods and the wide berth allows guide dogs to pass.

The building wall embraces an outdoor eating area providing a sense of enclosure with the freedom of a wall-less room.

The bottom line is always the happiness of the occupants even in the processing areas where books on tape are distributed across the nation to the visually impaired.

This 83,000-volume Master Tape Library is the largest educational resource of its kind in the world and Dennis designed three continuous movable shelving systems to handle the product. These 12’ tall carousels are 80’ long and rotate by computer signal to bring the selected audio master tape to an opperator for duplicating.

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DKA created custom designed conveyor systems that recognize specific tapes and automatically distribute them.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS designs for the blind, dyslexic and physically handicapped.

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Fitting a house for special needs   Leave a comment

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Fitting a house for special needs

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The raised house entrance requires climbing a hill of steps (outside and inside) before reaching  the main level of this house.  A new internal elevator (operated by a small electric traction motor) gets the residents from just inside the garage to the upper level kitchen and living area in just a few seconds.  No rooms were lost during the insertion of the elevator.

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“You saved our lives!” were literally the words spoken by a thankful couple who asked Dennis Kowal Architects to install an elevator in their modest split level home.  “We could no longer make the long trips up and down the stairs and would have to move out if something wasn’t done”.  But the couple loved their home and didn’t want to move, so a teamwork approach found just the space to add a two story elevator within the existing house with no loss of living space.  Interior designer, Susan Kowal, reorganized the house and furnishings to actually find more room and a safer pathway from car to kitchen using the newly installed elevator.   While the firm has helped other homeowners add elevators as an addition to the outside of the house, the artful insertion of an interior elevator was necessary because of the tight site and because the homeowners wanted to retain the beauty of their yard.   Without a team looking at everything from pipes to drapes, the inside elevator would not have been possible.

Dennis Kowal noted that home elevators still require a State Elevator Inspection upon completion just like the commercial ones; but they don’t need the deep elevator pits or special machine rooms. The elevator door is a normal swing type door and blends in with the other doors of the house and the elevator cab is perfect for carting groceries and other items between floors.

The owners explained “When your knees don’t cooperate on stairs anymore, the elevator saves the day. Our quality of life just increased and our home actually looks better because of their design.”


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The wood interior of the elevator cab matches the finishes in the house.   A variety of sizes from as small as 3’x3’ exist, but consideration must be given to whether a wheel chair or small moving cart needs to fit inside the cab as well.

A normal looking swing door conceals the second accordion glass elevator door. Both must be closed to operate the elevator which can safely carry 900 pounds.

Once a messy basement laundry room off the garage, now an elevator lobby and a neat laundry room.

 

To thank the project team (Steven Malyszka project designer, William Soltez project manager, Clarence Burshnic project builder and  Susan Kowal interior designer) the owners hosted an outdoor luncheon on one of those 100 degree days!  And yes, the elevator was used to bring the food and drinks down from the kitchen!

 
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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS loves to help people with their creativity.

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Posted June 27, 2012 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Special Needs Design

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Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)   2 comments

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Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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The master plan for housing adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder includes 24 individual units, a recreation building, administrative offices and clinic. 
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Special needs providers sometimes differ on the approach to designing for those who are visually impaired, autistic, deaf, disabled, or otherwise atypical.   On the one hand, if you create an environment that is so special and customized, you risk making the individual dependent on the building and send the wrong message to society that this person can’t function without “crutches”.    On the other hand, if you say the best policy is to ask the individual to adapt to any building situation without changing the current building norms, you do no service to those with limited adaptation skills and you don’t advance the design practice as a whole.  Unfortunately, I have been in the middle of this argument many times by the various representative constituent groups I bring together for design retreats at the outset of a new special needs building design.   It has been our firm’s skill at walking this fine line that has led to our acceptance in the special needs community as an advocate and friend.

If a building is a training center or rehabilitation center, then a variety of building experiences with various levels of customization are in order.    In this way, the training center can prepare an individual for any level of outside world experience.  If the building is a permanent residence, then more customization can contribute to an improved daily experience.  For example, in our design for a residence of Adults with Autism, the users told us that the two most important considerations for them were light and sound.  While Autism is complex and can’t be narrowed down to two senses, it is sometimes helpful to at least address the most significant requests of the users.   The Autistic often can’t separate stimuli such as the background noise of an exhaust fan from music on the radio.  The overload would be comparable to trying to hear your cell phone while standing on the yellow line in the middle of a six lane highway.  Your only thought might be “Just get me out of here!”  So a place to retreat from too much light, too many sounds, or any overload, is not a crutch as much as a necessity.

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 A gazebo serves as a focal point for the therapy flower gardens and a place for informal peer interaction.  The arrival experience is much like any of the estates in the area. 

.                                  . Understanding the mind of the those who are developmentally disabled or have Autistic Spectrum Disorder requires letting go of preconceptions, re-thinking common design practices, and being guided by the needs of the user. 

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Unfortunately, much has been written about designing for special needs, but very little fact-based, post-occupancy research has been done on buildings designed for the Autistic.  That is why, we begin every design by visiting the best completed projects and interviewing the users to learn what works and what doesn’t.    I can remember a mistake I made twenty five years ago when my proposed townhouses design had two entry doors that were designed for Adults with Autism face each other under a cute little arched portico.  My Autistic friend (and an informal plan reviewer) balked at having to face someone else should they both leave their apartments at the same time on a bad day.  What was a delightful combined breezeway for me, was a potential threat for someone else.

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Many of the features of the design for ASD and DD are concealed in the construction.  For example, multiple lighting levels, operable drapes, sound partitions, remote exhaust fan motors,  and  safely designed built-in furniture are developed as the design progresses.
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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS  designs for those with special needs.

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That’s Impossible!   Leave a comment

That’s Impossible!

Don’t say “that’s impossible” to a blind person. At our new Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Richmond, Virginia, the theme of the project was “Imagine the Possibilities”.   The first task for DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS was to prove it was possible to redesign and renovate a 21,000 square foot vintage 1960’s building into a modern training center for those with visual impairments.   One employee told DKA upon seeing the completed facility, “I don’t know where you found all the extra space; the place looks bigger, brighter and totally new!”

 
A glare-free translucent skylight floods the interior resource 
room with natural light and becomes the hub of the facility.  

The student commons which is also used for group discussions  
is primarily defined by the carpeting and a molded wall that 
helps to diffuse sound.
 
    
 
                   

 

In continuing with the possibilities theme, the next task was to communicate hope to all those that enter, including the families and friends who sometimes accompany a new student.  Director, Melody Roanne, Trades Manager of A&E Services, Dr. Richard Fisher, and Virginia Department of the Blind Commissioner, Raymond E. Hopkins, brainstormed with Dennis J. Kowal, AIA, LEED AP, about how the building might encourage and inspire.  When Dennis Kowal heard about the blind art work on display at the library and the many accomplishments of graduates, the “Wall of Possibilities” was created to showcase student achievements and to send the message that “nothing is impossible”.   The Wall contains video panels that describe how much the graduates have accomplished and actual photos, samples, and testimonials by those who have enjoyed success since leaving the program.


 
Some graduates have become artists, doctors, lawyers,
journalists and many of the same professions as the sighted.
At the new Training Center, “nothing is impossible”.  

 
Instructors often wear “sleep masks” themselves as they train students in mobility.  
Vocational training, Home Management skills, Braille Reading, and Career Counseling are
all offered at the School.
 
 
 
 

                   


 

The building also conveys a message of possibility to future employers.   It shows you don’t need special provisions to hire someone with vision impairment.   Normal cues like edges and walls are enough to provide navigational tips for mobility.   Gone are the images of special hand rails along corridors, garish material changes and warning strips, or extra wide corridors which many wrongly believed would be necessary to hire a blind worker.

Dennis Kowal has a national reputation for designing for the blind and physically handicapped and was invited to be the Design Architect for this project working closely with students, staff, administration, and Taylor Muniz of Moseley Architects, who brought this remarkable transformation in under budget.

                   


 

 
A caring staff train students to use computers and other technologies.   A braille
mouse, a tactile display, or text to voice software are sometimes all that is
needed for full proficiency. 

 
In a bold move, Dennis left an existing column exposed in a hallway to prove that no special provisions are needed by employers to hire the blind.
 
 
 
                                                                
 
 

Special attention was paid to creating outdoor spaces and typical street environments to practice mobility skills. The spaces also serve as great social and recreational hotspots.
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