Courtesy Terry and Terry Architecture, photography by Bruce Damonte

In Palo Alto, a House for Deaf Clients Provides Clarity

Terry and Terry architecture put DeafSpace concepts into practice with plenty of space, even lighting, and clever visual cues.

Streamlined, partition-free spaces are a hallmark of modern architecture. But for those who are Deaf, they’re more than just aesthetically pleasing: Clear sight lines are critical for communicating in sign language. So when San Francisco Bay Area architects (and brothers) Alex and Ivan Terry of Terry and Terry Architecture designed a house for Deaf clients, they strove for exceptional clarity.

Located in Palo Alto, California, the 3,000-square-foot home
for Gabe Leung and Susie Lai, a Deaf couple with a seven-year-old
son, and their extended family, embodies DeafSpace concepts.
Developed in 2005, the guidelines highlight the importance of
allotting ample space—specifying 3 to 10 feet of space between
people—for good visual communication.

Courtesy Terry and Terry Architecture, photography by Bruce Damonte

Most of the house’s lower level is one expansive gathering place, encompassing kitchen, dining, entry, and an open stairwell. The broad, double-height space at the center of the home lets a larger group of people communicate comfortably, even allowing someone on the upper level to sign toward someone on the ground floor.

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Since Deaf people in the middle of a conversation are more likely to trip over physical obstacles, the architects designed the house with flush thresholds throughout. As a result, the flow between indoor and outdoor space is exceptionally smooth.

Another innovation unique to this house is its alert system, which relies on visual cues—in the form of LED-lined horizontal slits throughout the home—rather than sound. When the doorbell rings, the slits glow green, and they turn other colors to alert the family to smoke, carbon monoxide, or a broken window. As it turns out, the green “doorbell” is a little too subtle, says Leung. But, he points out, that’s because the architects fulfilled another major tenet of DeafSpace, which is to provide natural, even lighting in the service of visual communication: “The house brims with natural light.”

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