Designer Forum: Design is an experience at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore - March 2021
By Erin Deason
Although we often focus on its visual nature, design has the ability to engage all the senses. Balance and composition, repetition and articulation, layering of materials and textures-these are all incredibly important to the overall design concept and story. However, we shouldn’t discount the influence and importance of how sound, smell and touch elevate the greatest design experiences.
When The Verve Partnership, based in Baltimore, Maryland, engaged the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), also headquartered in Baltimore, in an inspiring visioning and character session, we identified early on that the audible experience and the joy associated with entering a comfortable space-a warm and familiar welcoming-would be the key drivers. These would define a successful place to live and work for guests and employees alike.
The NFB is an extraordinary nationwide organization that believes in the full capacity of blind people and supports them along the journey to achieve their dreams. In addition to being advocates for the rights of blind people, the NFB provides programs, services and resources for blind people, people losing vision and parents of blind children. Fueling the mission of the organization is leadership with a fierce dedication to provide spaces that are thoughtfully designed for how sighted and visually impaired people experience the built environment.
The renovation started as an idea to provide program space for children and youth in a portion of the existing headquarters building that was underutilized. The scope expanded, as did the ideas, into a vision for space to provide in-house lodging for guests from all over the world. And what would a lodging space be without the proper amenities for community, opportunity and interaction? As the plan evolved, a fitness area, kitchen, lounge, youth hangout space and formal living room were all added to the list of important amenity spaces to relax, practice and participate in activities that enrich each guest’s stay at the NFB.
THE MATERIAL EXPERIENCE
During the initial meetings to define the character of the space and how it would look and feel, the desire was to provide elements that felt like home and emulated the smells and textures associated with comfort. As the space was meant to be a home away from home, features and materials like a wood-burning fireplace, grand piano and a speaker system for ambient music were all integrated into the audible experience that visitors would encounter during their stay.
The tactile experience encouraged a rich compilation of soft-handed leather, plush upholsteries and area rugs with underfoot comfort. Surfaces the sighted might consider hard or cold, in this context, were appreciated as feeling clean. Materials such as countertops and wallcoverings were selected to elicit a positive textural experience, yet products were easily cleanable so traces of food, dust or dirt were not left behind.
One of the most important design elements was the use of flooring and transitions as indicators of space.
Guest rooms offer lodging for out-of-town visitors in the facility. Each is defined by a visual and physical texture emulating naturally moving water and its power to shape topography through erosion. The texture was achieved by using a loop and tip-sheared product from AtlasMasland’s Arbolada carpet tile collection; the tip-shearing structure provided the soft hand and cushion underfoot.
The rooms are situated along the perimeter of the building to benefit from daylight and views to the outdoors. Spatially, this also allows one continuous corridor to layout in a circle throughout the space, minimizing jogs in the path of travel and allowing the traveling experience to be easily committed to memory.
The corridor carpet, due to the high-traffic nature of its use, is a highly textured loop construction from AtlasMasland’s
Kemea carpet tile collection that is different enough underfoot to signify a transition into each guest room. This is complemented by articulation in the drywall.
In the center of the corridor that traverses the entire perimeter of the lodging areas lay the community spaces, like a park surrounded by a walking path. The division of space between the corridors and the community space was defined by the rubber strip transition to a luxury vinyl plank floor. While many flooring materials are designed with the ability to reduce transitions altogether between soft and hard flooring products, the rubber reducers and transitions were intentional delineations of space easily detectable by foot. These flooring transitions mirrored changes in ceiling height and finish that allowed the design team to create both a material and acoustic experience of the entry sequence.
Each seating cluster is oriented on top of a carpet tile area rug constructed from Modulyss’ Patchwork line, again delineated by a rubber transition strip. Each area rug is a different, highly visual pattern that adds energy, youth and whimsy to all spaces. The bright colors and bold patterns were key elements in providing a design that bridged the gap between the age ranges of guests who would be visiting.
In the dining and kitchen area of the room, LVT from Mannington Commercial’s Spacia Stone line in Gallery Concrete was specified.
A wood grain vinyl flooring-Mannington Commercial’s Spacia Wood LVT in Feature Oak-was a natural decision to introduce the warmth of wood into a communal space, creating a marked walkway along the side of the room. The selection was carefully chosen for its recreation of wood texture and etching, as well as its ease of cleaning and maintenance.
The Spacia Wood continues in the featured living room and fireplace lounge, where it was installed on a diagonal to add to the visual interest. Seating areas in the room once again incorporate soft surfaces through the use of carpet tile rugs from Bentley Mills’ Trespass and Interface’s Flor lines.
The facility has a fitness area, which offers various workouts machines and weight-lifting areas. The flooring used is a resilient rubber flooring from Pliteq, which offers comfort underfoot as well as sound-dampening qualities.
SPACE AS A TOOL
No space is complete without the finishing touches. Toss pillows, accessorized shelves, artifacts from the Jacobus tenBroek Library and an artwork story (worthy of its own article) provided profound impact for The National Federation of the Blind, its members, supporters and this close-knit community. One of the greatest experiences has undoubtedly been hearing and witnessing the gratitude and excitement of members experiencing the space for the first time, and this is, in essence, why we do what we do as designers.
Copyright 2021 Floor Focus