Chris Downey, AIA, is an architect, planner and consultant, who lost his sight in 2008. Today, he is dedicated to creating more effective and enriching environments for the blind and visually impaired. Whether working as a planning and programming team member or as a client representative, he draws on his unique perspective as a seasoned architect without sight.
Chris now specializes in projects specifically for the blind and visually impaired as well as projects critical yet challenging to them. In this capacity he has consulted on the design of multiple eye centers, a new blind rehabilitation center for the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as renovations of Housing for the blind in New York City, and an independent living resource center in San Francisco. Most exciting to him however, is his new work on public transportation projects where he merges his personal commuting experience with his design skills to increase effectiveness of the non-visual commuter at the point where “the rubber hits the road”. This work includes consulting on the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco and the new Bus Rapid Transit project linking downtown Oakland to San Leandro. In all cases, he helps design teams achieve greater access; not only of space and information but also to “delight” in architecture whether it is to be seen or not. His approach is rooted in the idea that designing better environments for the visually impaired enhances the experience for all people.
As one of the few practicing blind architects in the world, Chris has been featured in local, national, and international media stories and speaks regularly about issues relative to visual impairments and architectural design. He teaches a class on accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley, Department of Architecture, and is the second vice president of the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. Chris starts each day rowing with the East Bay Rowing Club on the Oakland Estuary before commuting via BART or bus into his office just off San Francisco’s Union Square.