Student center

Gallaudet’s reinvented student center tackles sensory challenges

When Gallaudet University’s Student Activity Center in Washington, DC needed a facelift, BKP Architects stepped in to give it a new look and improved functionality.

The renovation affected five areas: the MarketPlace, a 1990s retail dining area; the Rathskellar, a social gathering and informal seating area; bathroom; an interfaith shrine; and the student kitchen. But it wasn’t just any renovation: Gallaudet, known worldwide for its emphasis on a deaf and hard of hearing student population, also welcomes a growing number of students who are blind or use wheelchairs to get around.

To meet the unique needs of the campus population, BKP’s efforts incorporated the Americans with Disability Act standards, Universal Design Principles, and DeafSpace Design Guidelines. The latest set of rules, introduced at Gallaudet in 2005, considers five elements intended to meet the needs of a deaf population: sensory range, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics. Incorporating these principles into the design also makes spaces more accessible to visually impaired students.

BKP has worked with various stakeholder groups: operator Bon Appetit Management Co.; campus design, planning and facilities teams; and student groups.

“We met with them literally every week for almost two years,” says Caitlin Daley, director of BKP.

The result is a student activity center more in tune with Gallaudet’s diverse clientele and their unique needs.