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San Francisco LightHouse

San Francisco, CA.  Excerpt from Architectural Record:  Expectations are not usually high for the design of a nonprofit social service agency. When the client base and employees are overwhelmingly blind or vision impaired—as they are at the LightHouse, a 114-year-old private organization that provides rehabilitation, advocacy, and other services—those expectations slip even lower.

But, thanks to the efforts of a forward-looking director and a board president who is an architect—both of whom are blind—and a committed design team led by Mark Cavagnero Associates, the new home of the San Francisco LightHouse, which needed to grow its space, stands such preconceptions on their heads.

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 Every element of the design—from circulation to lighting to mechanical equipment and the tactile and acoustic properties of surface materials—was shaped to the advantage of users whose visual challenges and compensating skills span an enormous range. The perceptions that LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin most wanted to upend were those of new clients and their supporters. “Bryan wanted a space that was uplifting, not a woe-is-me experience,” said Mark Cavagnero, whose San Francisco–based firm was selected by a design committee as the architect for the $13 million project.

Every element of the design—from circulation to lighting to mechanical equipment and the tactile and acoustic properties of surface materials—was shaped to the advantage of users whose visual challenges and compensating skills span an enormous range. The perceptions that LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin most wanted to upend were those of new clients and their supporters. “Bryan wanted a space that was uplifting, not a woe-is-me experience,” said Mark Cavagnero, whose San Francisco–based firm was selected by a design committee as the architect for the $13 million project.

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 Even so, the environment couldn’t be so “soft and gentle,” says Cavagnero, that clients would be unprepared for the hard corners of the real world.  The LightHouse also had an extremely unusual resource in Chris Downey, a successful Bay Area architect who became blind during an operation to remove a brain tumor in 2008. Downey, who immediately decided to continue in his chosen career, joined the LightHouse board in 2009 and is now its president.

Even so, the environment couldn’t be so “soft and gentle,” says Cavagnero, that clients would be unprepared for the hard corners of the real world.  The LightHouse also had an extremely unusual resource in Chris Downey, a successful Bay Area architect who became blind during an operation to remove a brain tumor in 2008. Downey, who immediately decided to continue in his chosen career, joined the LightHouse board in 2009 and is now its president.

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 Architect:   Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects  Architect and Lighthouse Project Advisor:   Chris Downey  Photographer:  Jasper Sanidad Production / Camera Crew:  Ian Nelson, Mark Jayson Quines, Richard Celis, J. Matthew Rhea Post Production:  Jasper Sanidad, Whitney Sakae Beers, Aura O'Brien

Architect:  Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects
Architect and Lighthouse Project Advisor:  Chris Downey
Photographer:  Jasper Sanidad
Production / Camera Crew:  Ian Nelson, Mark Jayson Quines, Richard Celis, J. Matthew Rhea
Post Production:  Jasper Sanidad, Whitney Sakae Beers,
Aura O'Brien