Designing in the Dark

Designing in the Dark: multi-sensorial workshop reconnecting designers with visually impaired end-users

The title ‘Designing in the Dark’ does not point to the rich and layered world of experience of persons that are blind, but on the contrary to the unknown and uncertain design attitude of designers without visual impairments. Ignorance and insecurity among architects, urban planners and interior designers, are but a few factors that prevent designers of paying attention to multi-sensorial means of experiencing the built environment. Tactility (texture of a ramp, walls, railings, air stream, heat radiation…), sound (of traffic, rattle sounds, voices, birds, wind, announcements, noise of pathways, echoes…), smell (of traffic, garbage, interiors, perfumes, food, plants…): what of these senses can designers explore and adopt in view of enriching the multi-sensorial qualities and potentials of the built environment? For the past two academic years, ‘Designing in the Dark’ has been tried out as a local workshop component of the international programme of the coordinating institution. At the campus in Ghent, the joint-masters Meta-Programme of the first semester centres a round the key issue of ‘User-orientation’ under which aspects of socially sustainable development and universal design resort. Structured as an international lab, the unit derives its educational and’ research by design’ programmes from today’s real world problems: ageing, transgeneration, sustainable built environments, etc.. To widen the scope of their conceptual architectural thinking and strengthen their design skills, the international students are introduced to the concept of ‘Universal Design’ or ‘Design-for-All’, a relatively new design paradigm that extends far beyond the bias and field of architecture. Moving away from a mere fragmented approach of aspects of accessibility, the coordinating institution is committed, in accordance with the European resolution RESAP(2001), to develop ‘Universal Design’ as a mainstream component of its architectural curriculum in general, and as a explicit competence of its newly conceived Masters Degree Programme of Architecture. As founding partner of the META University education network, Universal Design is already registered as course specialism under the umbrella of user-orientation and Built-in-Quality of Life (BQL).


Aims and objectives Against the background of the European resolution on introducing the principles of universal design, the workshop provides a means to converge and to rethink educational programmes of all participating institutes. For instance, from the viewpoint of teacher mobility, the intensive programme offers yet another unique opportunity to ‘training the trainers’. Indeed, bringing together teachers from different backgrounds focusing on the key issue of ‘Designing in the Dark’ as a more user-oriented design paradigm, provides yet another opportunity to exchange, compare and critically reconsider educational and research strategies and tools in this particular field of studies. The aim of the Intensive Programme is to improve the research and design skills of master class students in architecture, interior design and urban planning in addressing ‘user-oriented’ problems such as ‘ageing’ and ‘situational handicap’. Particularly targeted are students from all faculties who are participating in the META-joint-masters programme. The enthusiasm of both participating students and teachers vis-à-vis topic (Universal Design and Designing in the Dark) as well as approach (intensive workshop) on the one hand, and the successful involvement of external persons with various types of visual impairments (from blindness over colour-blindness to tunnel sight..), provided us with confidence to organise a knowledge transfer at the level of our joint masters Meta-university network.



Marc Dujardin, PhD
Professor in Universal Design and Architectural Antroplogy, Departement Sint-Lucas Architectuur, Hogeschool voor Wetenschap en Kunst (Belgium)




Antonio Caperna, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Urban Design



Saddek Rehal, PhD. Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)



Tom Chambers, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow