This article, by Linda Hales, originally appeared on Metropolis Mag as “Clear Line of Sight“
The new dormitory at Gallaudet University exudes raw energy. Rough wood planks, exposed steel, polished concrete, and gleaming bamboo unite to provide architectural muscle. But the real power comes from a barely detectable dynamic. That energy doesn’t come from how the structure looks on its historic Washington D.C. campus, but how the building functions for the people inside. “It’s about how buildings structure and frame human interaction,” says David J. Lewis of LTL Architects. “The basic conditions of architecture were brought to the fore.”
The glass entry door slides open with a soft whoosh. Students ignore it as they crowd through the gap in a jumbled dance of elbows, hands, arms, and animated faces. Gallaudet is the preeminent liberal arts institution for youth who are deaf or hard of hearing, and most of its 1,821 students communicate with the expansive gestures and expressions of American Sign Language (ASL). That the students can make their way into the building without using their hands to open the door—thus halting the flow of the conversation—is cause for celebration. Here, at least, architecture has gotten out of their way.