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A Beacon for Sensory Education

Salt Lake City, UT
C. Mark Openshaw Education Center, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

The idea for this building was conceived many years before it was actually realized. The original sensory design concept focused on creating classrooms specifically tailored for deaf students and blind students. That vision was then expanded to not only include a space for the children, but also a much needed gathering space for the deaf and blind communities.


So, how does one design for both the deaf and the blind? With extreme care and consideration! Both groups have very specific (and sometimes contrasting) needs. A lot of attention, listening, and research pushed the end product to serve as a prototype for this special building typology. The space is divided on two main axis. Along the east-west axis, deaf and blind classrooms are separated between a courtyard, with the blind classrooms to the north to minimize direct solar glare. The courtyard serves as a sensory garden, play area, and opportunity for the deaf and blind students to interact. Along the other axis, the lobby, specialty use “clubhouses” and “the beach” gross motor area transition into the community use of the gymnasium and conference space.


Texture and colors are used as wayfinding elements and examples of sensory design throughout the space, and technology is packed inside the walls to enhance the user’s experience and facilitate their ability to become independent and functioning members of society.