House Near New York

This house was built for the family of an active man who had recently gone blind from retinitis pigmentosa. To help him engage in the design process, we hand-made a vacuum-form machine to produce touchable ridged plans. During construction, we invited him through the house at the framing stage so that he gained a clear understanding of the various spaces and could make adjustments according to his preferences.

Many aspects of our design responded to his needs. A person with retinitis pigmentosa has a high sensitivity to glare, so we took care to create spaces with even natural lighting, combining skylights and multiple windows. To help him orient himself, we designed rooms with different acoustic properties, using soft and hard surfaces to establish distinct aural ambiences. And because his hearing grew more sensitive as his eyesight waned, doors and walls were designed to be especially resistant to sound transmission.

We also appealed to his sense of smell by designing a central hallway featuring a greenhouse and a waterfall fountain. This offered the smells of flowers and the sound of water, which he could hear from adjacent rooms. Continuous wood rails helped guide him through the complex space. Many other details, from plumbing to cabinetry, were specially-fashioned to richen and ease his life.


Private Residence

Location Princeton, New Jersey
Year Completed 1976
Photo Credit Norman McGrath