Unseen Architectural Museum

Designing for the blind and visually impaired to create architecture led not just by the eyes, but by all available senses
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Designer(s) : Zheen Salahaddin Yasin

University : Salahaddin University-Erbil

Tutor(s) : Ahmed Ismael Alualdeen

In a world centred around sight, architecture, like most things, is led by the dominant visual sense. The unseen architectural museum combines and examines the seemingly paradoxical relationship between building architecture and those who cannot see. The objective of this project is to create an unprecedented approach, in the country and the region at large, to designing for the blind and visually impaired. This thesis aims to push the limited boundaries of accessibility and to create architecture led not just by the eyes, but by all available senses, engaging users in a uniquely immersive experience. In such a sense, architecture’s reliance on sight and sight alone seems like the impairment itself. The country of Iraq currently doesn’t have any facilities or spaces specifically designed with consideration for the blind and visually impaired.

For Erbil, one of the oldest inhabited cities and one still constantly progressing, such an architectural innovation was long overdue. The museum forms a space where blind and visually impaired people feel recognized, provides a place for social bonding between groups that otherwise do not interact, and encourages designers to examine their own works’ relationship to, and perhaps dependency on, sight.

The concept is drawn from a Quran verse – “We have removed from your eyes the veil, so this day your sight is piercing” (Q. 50:22) – unveiling a cloak from one’s eyesight, and revealing the light, to now make the unseen, visible. The form arises out of the ground itself, from the lands’ depths; the idea that all architecture starts from that same earth. The Minaret Choli, a historic architectural landmark, sits right across from the site. The veil, that curved roof, arches towards the Minaret and solidifies the museum’s connection to local architecture.

The roof’s pattern is inspired by the blind community’s tactile language of Braille. A majority of blind and visually impaired people are still able to note silhouettes and distinguish between light and shadow – this pattern of circular skylights was uniquely suited as architecture for the visually impaired as that play of light and dark creates sharp contrasts which they can readily detect.

The elevation is made up of perforated screens recalling the roof’s pattern, protecting from the heat and glare. The building’s entrance is fragmented; the visitor walks through towering passages with only the walls guiding them forward, relating to the blind person’s isolation. The core of the design had to be where a blind visitor would feel it most – the human scale. Inside, the visitor comes to the atrium lobby. The storeys circulation paths strategically open to it: when lobby sounds carry, the blind visitor enjoys the social equivalent of a sighted person watching others in the museum. Different ceiling heights create distinct auditory identities. The central sculptural ramp provides comfortable and accessible circulation. Movement is straightforward with tactile guides, sensory landmarks, and right-angled corners as preferred. The main exhibits are arranged so that the visitor takes a chronological journey through the history of architecture, from the ancient to the modern. The green courts provide a distinct scent to spaces, a proven method of memory establishment.

Through a multisensory experience, the structure allows both blind people and average visitors to form a deeper connection to architecture. The project is a reminder that buildings are first and foremost made for humans.