Christopher V. Downey, AIA will serve as the inaugural Lifchez Professor of Practice in Social Justice
The College of Environmental Design is pleased to announce that Christopher V. Downey, AIA will serve as the inaugural Lifchez Professor of Practice in Social Justice in the Department of Architecture.
An architect of universal design who specializes in spaces for blind and low-vision individuals, Downey brings decades of experience to teaching students justice, advocacy and accessibility as it relates to the built environment. Downey has been without sight since 2008 and has continued his more than 30-year career as an architect designing inclusive public spaces. Thriving through this apparent paradox as a blind architect, Downey has been featured internationally for his design and speaks globally about inclusive architecture and social equity.
“Architecture, at its best, should engage in more than just the visual, and enrich occupation through multiple sensorial aspects. We are excited that Chris’s design research emphasizes haptic and aural aspects of architecture, and feel lucky to have a practitioner so highly attuned to the full range of architectural experience.” Said Lisa Iwamoto, Chair of the Department of Architecture.
The endowed professorship is named for professor emeritus Raymond Lifchez. Following Lifchez’s 50th anniversary in 2021 of teaching at UC Berkeley, the endowed Professor of Practice in Social Justice honors Professor Lifchez’ legacy and life’s work by elevating the importance of incorporating accessibility and disability justice into design education. The Professor of Practice in Social Justice will rotate between the CED Departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and City and Regional Planning.
“Ray’s gift is timely: urgent change is needed in the design and development of our buildings and communities. We cannot say we are addressing environmental inequities if we do not include people with disabilities – whether visible or invisible. Again, Ray leads us into new paths forward. I am so delighted that Chris found time in his busy schedule to help us in our continuous transformation toward greater environmental justice.” said Renee Chow, Dean of the College of Environmental Design.
As part of the professorship, Downey will be teaching a graduate M.Arch design studio in the spring. Titled “Confronting Our Blind Spots,” the studio will focus on multi-sensory design through projects including a BART headhouse and a community boathouse in Oakland. The studio is part of a multi-disciplinary sequence and Joshua Cushner of Arup will be an acoustical design partner.
When asked what he hopes to bring to students Chris replied saying “Through this appointment, I hope to advance Professor Lifchez’s legacy by continuing to nurture the design thinking of today’s students to be truly inclusive of and delightful for the broadest expression of the human experience. The studio seeks to embrace the idea that architects have an active role in and responsibility to advocate for, empathize with and design for all people, not just through regulatory compliance, but beyond in the creative pursuit of design excellence that is socially just and socially sustainable — welcoming of the many gifts, passions and contributions all have to offer.”
As part of the inaugural celebrations of Lifchez’s legacy and gift, the College will host a one-day symposium, “The Evolution of Social Justice in Design” on Friday, April 1. More details to come.
Downey’s appointment will begin Spring 2022. Please join us in welcoming Christopher Downey as the inaugural Lifchez Professor of Practice in Social Justice.