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Not Yet Built

The Veditz Museum Center Building Project

Nichols Design Associates, Inc.’s Veditz Museum Center Building Project which is not in construction in Baltimore, MD has been selected as Good Practice in the 2014 International Design for All Foundation Awards.

The Veditz Center of Maryland, located in the south of the City of Baltimore, called Westport Neighborhood Area, is a universal design project to enable deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors to view the museum’s exhibition of arts and sculpture both inside and outside the building. Open to the public, this new museum has been converted from a 100-year-old historical bank of a Greek Revival style with Flemish brick walls with it’s preservation and restoration. The Veditz Center of Maryland is a place where citizens from the neighborhood’s low-income families can visit and socialize with people who have disabilities for community activities, events, and meeting. The construction’s total gross area is 1,100 square feet, including an additional 800-square-foot space toward a rear yard. To improve and rehabilitate the open space, a section of the roof that was in poor condition has been replaced with translucent panels, which are placed at a 20-degree slope along each of two sides of a long ridge.

An objective of the design development for the Veditz Center of Maryland project is non-object projecting to an open space area, allowing deaf and disabled people to inhabit a sensory world that offers visual and tactile means of spatial awareness. An open space for the exhibition of various sculptures, ceramics, paintings, and other artwork is located both inside and outside of the building and has been designed to be free of barriers that could limit the movement of the deaf and hard-of-hearing while they communicate with one another. Deaf people communicate through visual sign language and identify with a culture rooted in cognitive and linguistic sensibilities. From admission to the museum at its main entrance through to its exit, the space has been designed with a sensitivity to the ways in which deaf visitors alter their environment through acts of cultural customization, often carried out in a communal effort to enhance spatial awareness, visual communication, and social connection. Through a particular arrangement of furniture, careful adjustments to exhibition lighting levels, and the colors and patterns of materials, the spatial organization for those with hearing loss can be extended beyond accessibility to create a new vernacular architecture responsive to and expressive of deaf experiences.

From my experience as a hearing impaired architectural designer as well as universal designer on the design-development phase for the museum project, I have largely overlooked the needs and design inspiration inherent to deaf sensibilities. Such an oversight is symptomatic of a lack of attention in contemporary design practices to the fundamental relationship among the senses, architecture, and well-being—validating the “distorted perceptions that further distance the procession from the public a large.” Through a close examination of the making of an open space in the Veditz Center of Maryland, this project shows spatial organization as a more empathic approach to design grounded in an awareness of the relationship among architecture, culture, and sensory experience.