The LightHouse for the Blind has found its forever home. When it came time for The LightHouse for the Blind to expand, lofty, but achievable goals were set. One non-negotiable goal was to create the most welcoming and adaptive space in the world for the blind, visually impaired and their families. Thanks to a very generous donation, they were able to purchase an 11-story building at 1155 Market Street in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The LightHouse for the Blind built out the top three floors and retained the City of San Francisco as a tenant for the remaining floors. The new headquarters triples their current footprint, expanding to approximately 35,000 sq. ft. and provides a space for outstanding training, advocacy and outreach for the blind. The new space offers several new services, including:
- An increase in the number of classrooms. This doubles the capacity in braille, tactile graphics production and the low-vision clinic.
- Dedicated rooms for counseling, crafts, fitness, teleconferences and science education.
- New student dorm rooms for 29 LightHouse students to lengthen and intensify their training by staying overnight.
- A multipurpose room, which enables LightHouse to host three large, simultaneous events or one large gathering of nearly 150 people.
- A teaching kitchen that will offer 12 students the chance to learn how to cook together on a variety of stoves and equipment. For the first time, LightHouse will be able to teach the entire range of nonvisual cooking techniques.
- Advanced audio and video technology to allow the LightHouse to host webcasts, author podcasts, and connect blindness organizations, professionals and the blind community worldwide.
- A blindness products store, Adaptations, doubles in size as well as adding a second dedicated demonstration space for dozens of the latest high-value technologies.
- A volunteer center, with a half-dozen private reading/computing rooms, where blind community members can meet volunteers to do everything from online shopping to tax form assistance.
The needs of the blind and visually impaired end users are specialized, so standard practice wasn’t going to work on this project. DPR focused on the end users at every level of detail, so that the space is the most comfortable, customized and welcoming space for the blind and their families. DPR demolished the existing interior space and provided a complete build-out. One key feature is a large steel stairway connecting all three floors. It was hoisted in through the 10th floor window and placed by opening a skylight above the staircase and in dorm room hallways.
Even though the LightHouse for the Blind is located in a typical 1980’s high-rise, this project was not a typical corporate office tenant improvement. The LightHouse for the Blind has a very dense program with a wide range of uses. Each area of this project is meant for a specific function; including offices, kitchens, classrooms, recording studios, examination rooms, therapy rooms, dorm rooms, a gym and showers.
A major goal of this project is integrating numerous user-types together, which can prove challenging since each room is unique. Acoustical concerns were part of every program area. Echolocation is very important in the space, if the room is too loud the users can have trouble finding their way around. This was also necessary for the life safety system, which uses locator beacons on doors and an increased speaker count to make audible alarm sounds more consistent and less distracting during an evacuation event. To successfully execute and help LightHouse for the Blind achieve their goals, DPR worked closely with the design team to select products for function and aesthetic. Every aspect of the design has a very specific function, whether it’s touch, feel or sound.