SEALAB uses 3D tactile drawings to build a School for visually impaired children in Gandhinagar

While working on the design of a School for the blind and visually impaired children in Gandhinagar, the Ahmedabad based SEALAB architect was confronted with a situation on how to communicate the design to blind children and teachers, hence they devised a 3D printed tactile model.

For centuries, architects have relied on drawings to record, imagine, communicate, and construct architecture. Drawings bridge the gap between the imaginary and real. However, this communication tool, which depends largely on the visual sense, became a limitation in this case.

School for blind and visually impaired children in Gandhinagar is designed for children from remote villages and towns in Gujarat and professors eager to offer them a better education and opportunities in society.

During the initial meetings with students and teachers, they relied on physical architecture models. Through this medium, they experienced architecture by touch. The scale of the model was important because it needed to be within the reach of the hands. First, they quickly touch and experience the entire model (creating a mind map and gauge the limit) and later they slowly visualize each space in detail.  

Initially, the school occupied an existing building, previously a primary school. The 1st floor was used as classrooms for academic activities and the ground floor as dormitories. Earlier, there was less space for all the students (12 children shared in each dorm room) and no capacity to welcome more.

The corners are identified with strokes of light or articulated volumes, and the corridor surrounding the central plaza has different widths and volumes on each side. This allows the students to identify their location in the building.

Each classroom around the central plaza has different features for specific uses – music rooms, meeting spaces, workshops, etc. Based on their functions, the “special” classrooms have various forms, volumes, and light qualities. The other classrooms are like verandahs; each opens to a private courtyard with the possibility of outdoor learning.

SeaLab realized that this model too had its limitations, because interior spaces were difficult to comprehend. Therefore, they devised a 3d printing technique to generate tactile surfaces with different grains and depths, which allowed them to differentiate them by touch. It enabled students to touch them without breaking themWe overlapped these textures to the 2d plans, resulting in a tactile drawing.

The landscape has a significant role in the design. Courtyards, located next to the classroom and connected to the corridor, have aromatic plants and trees, which help in the navigation of the building.

On the first experience exploring the tactile plan, students and teachers could visualize their new school. It has to be indeed a joyful moment.

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