The new LightHouse headquarters is designed to be functional and beautiful for the blind and sighted alike. Spanning three floors in downtown San Francisco, it encompasses a variety of services that the LightHouse offers its clients ranging from exam, training rooms, training kitchen, event spaces and dorm rooms for on-site training.
This project spans three floors of a high-rise in downtown San Francisco and encompasses a wide range of services that the LightHouse offers its clients, including on-site optometry exam rooms, a retail store showcasing adaptive technology devices, training rooms for hands-on learning of Braille and adaptive technology, a training kitchen, a large multi-purpose room for LightHouse and community events, administrative offices, audio and video recording facilities, conference rooms with state-of-the-art video-conferencing technology, and 11 dorm rooms where up to 29 clients can stay on-site for immersive training and community-building.
True to the principles of universal design, subtle design moves are utilized to make the spaces function well for everyone.
Wayfinding is aided by a ring of polished concrete encircling the public areas on each floor, while open spaces are defined by metal floor transition strips to give an indication of spatial demarcation to cane users. In training rooms, bold-colored felt-wrapped acoustic panels are used because rich, saturated colors can be discerned by many with low vision.
The main reception space is wrapped in wood acoustical panels to provide both visual and acoustic warmth, creating a welcoming environment for all visitors to the LightHouse.
A relatively small percentage of blind people have no sight at all, and even for those who can only distinguish light and shadow, daylight provides wayfinding cues and a sense of time passing.
The stairway, located by windows and under a skylight, is wide enough to accommodate two people and one service dog.
The element that was possibly the most fully tested in mock-up for the entire project is the handrail, made of Brazilian hardwood and molded to feel warm and welcoming in the hand and physically connect visitors to the space through touch and scale.
The heart of the project, the stair, conveys the sounds of foot traffic and conversation, linking users to all manner of activity going on around them.
The design team worked with Arup, which conducted extensive digital acoustic modeling of materials and room environments to balance acoustic resonance and liveliness with functionality and comfort.
Acoustics were modeled through digital animation to find a sound level that is warm but not overbearing, where cane taps and footsteps—human or canine—enliven the space.