Blind architect sports an upbeat vision

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Blind architect sports an upbeat vision
Architect Chris Downey, 51, who lost his eyesight six years ago, speaks at a conference on water conservation and energy-efficient building design in Downey last week / © Irfan Khan

Blind architect Chris Downey says that city planners and property owners should view future construction projects through a different set of eyes.

Downey’s observations came during a daylong conference on water conservation and energy-efficient building design conducted by local chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Southern California Gas Co. at the company’s energy resource center in Downey.

Downey, 51, of Piedmont, Calif., lost his eyesight six years ago after undergoing surgery for a non-cancerous brain tumor. Since then, he has maintained his San Francisco architectural practice.
“I have a career without sight. But as an architect, I still have vision,” he said with a grin. “The creative process is a mental process.”

Formerly a residential home designer who specialized in green modular dwellings, Downey returned to his design work a month after his surgery, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2008.

“I wanted to get back to work before others started saying I couldn’t go back to work,” he explained.
He uses a large-format embossing printer that renders PDFs of his design sketches into three-dimensional drawings. These days, he finds himself in demand for large-scale commercial projects for clients such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Construction of his latest design, an independent living resource center in San Francisco, begins this week.