Located on Perkins' main entry drive, massing and materials relate to the established campus fabric, while referencing the new contemporary functions within.
Students helped select many of the building materials, including the color and reflectivity of the exterior aluminum panels.
A double height lobby unifies the student-focused spaces and the teacher training areas.
The cafe is a universally accessible area where students may learn vocational and life skills.
Imagined by a Perkins student, a relief map of the world hangs at the student entrance. Tactile and audible cues announce thresholds and mark gathering spaces.
Furnishings and technology in the student center foster “teachable moments,” encouraging students to explore social activities and technology in a safe environment.
State-of-the-art technology — computers, hand-held devices, game consoles, musical instruments, radio equipment and more — offers relevant, accessible learning experiences.
Home to Perkins' internet radio station, the radio room is where students learn to host live programs and manage the equipment.
Wall mounted cast gypsum panels with different textured surface are located throughout the Center, offering tactile landmarks and meeting places for students, staff and visitors.
Flexible training classrooms and multipurpose rooms advance the school’s training and professional development programs and distance learning outreach efforts.
Raised access flooring will enable Perkins to incorporate new technologies in the future.
Engaging in educational outreach, a spokesperson for the school who is deafblind and her interpreter are videoconferencing with a fifth grade class in Vermont.
Plans
Multipurpose rooms were designed to support a variety of educational and social activities and can be reconfigured for different uses.
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Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology, Perkins
Watertown, Massachusetts
Imagined as a place where visually impaired students can be brought into the vernacular of today’s culture, so heavily entrenched in technology, the new Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology is a vibrant campus hub that encourages innovation, communication and independence, and also expands Perkins’ teacher training programs and educational outreach. The project incorporates a variety of innovative universal design concepts that appeal to all the senses and engage the diverse student body.

Perkins is the nation’s first school for students with visual impairments, and provides education and services to help build productive, meaningful lives for more than 500,000 children and adults who are blind or deafblind, including those with additional disabilities in the U.S. and more than 60 countries worldwide.

The new building is located directly on Perkins’ main entry drive and occupies a prominent site on the Collegiate Gothic campus. To maximize green space fronting the school pond, the building was sited on the “back” of the site. Exterior materials composed of brick, aluminum panels and glass serve to create a welcoming gateway and relate to the established campus fabric comprised predominately of early 20th century brick buildings with slate roofs. Clearly articulated massing components reduce the building’s overall scale and mediate with adjacent buildings. A central double-height glass lobby unifies the student areas and the teacher training facilities, and a straight-forward orthogonal plan provides users a clear and comprehensible circulation path.

As Perkins’ first ever social hub for students, the Grousbeck Center combines technology and recreational amenities to facilitate education, vocational training and social skills development. Students can explore accessible high-tech games, radio equipment, musical instruments, among other new and emerging technologies in a fun and supportive environment. A variety of furnishings invite students to navigate different social situations, and a student-run cafe offers students a framework to learn vocational and life skills.

Engaging all the senses, tactile, auditory and visual cues are integrated into the building and landscape to inform and introduce a sense of delight into students’ daily experience. A variety of textured floor surfaces—polished concrete floors, textured rubber panels and carpet tiles—provide directional cues. In addition, differences in surface absorption at major thresholds present audible signals. The central lobby and entrances are framed by large windows and colorful walls, providing users who have low vision directional information. The lighting design also contributes directional information to users who have low vision. Small round ceiling lights demarcate the corridors and long bar lights are positioned above gathering areas and in rooms.

Tactile markers placed throughout the Grousbeck Center create landmarks to help orient users. Imagined by a student, a sculptural relief map of the world is located at the student entrance. Topographic contours made of birch plywood represent world geography and recall the first large scale tactile globe that Perkins built in 1837. An interactive audible map of the campus is located in the lobby, adjacent to the cafe. Its touchable screen provides location and directional information for campus buildings. Other landmarks include wall-mounted cast gypsum panels with different textured surfaces that are located throughout the building.

In addition to the student-focused areas, the Grousbeck Center includes dedicated training facilities for teachers and visiting educators. Flexible classrooms expand the school’s educational resource programs and support instructional workshops and professional development programming. Multipurpose rooms that open out to the double-height entry lobby can be divided, expanded and reconfigured to support a variety of presentations and educational activities. Anticipating future changes in technology, raised access flooring will allow the school to evolve and incorporate new systems as appropriate.

Audiovisual systems installed throughout the center provide advanced audio and video recording and videoconferencing. Physical wall mounted button panels with braille labeling make these systems fully accessible to presenters who are visually impaired. iPads play an important role in making the systems accessible. Through a customized application and the built-in accessibility of the iPad, users who are visually impaired can control virtually every aspect of the rooms.

The new building is a centralized facility that advances Perkins’ social agenda on campus and worldwide. In 2001, the School hosted a job fair for people with disabilities in the Grousbeck Center, the first event of its kind in Massachusetts. The distance learning capabilities also support the Perkins International programs that enable the school to partner with hundreds of local agencies worldwide to expand resources and educational opportunities for children with visual disabilities.

The project is LEED Silver certified. The team’s sustainable design approach focused on creating healthy environments and providing all users easy and intuitive control over building systems. As one of the first buildings in the country to incorporate accessible system controls, the project is a benchmark for the use of technology for universal accessibility. GUND consulted with a software developer to create an iPad application that controls all aspects of individual comfort — lighting, shading and thermal comfort — in addition to controlling the Center’s advanced audiovisual systems. The iPad was selected for this use because of its built in accessibility features, including VoiceOver, an audio screen reader and the screen magnifier that enlarges text on the screen. Other sustainable design strategies emphasize cost-effective solutions that optimize indoor environmental quality, and reduce energy and potable water usage.

COMPLETION

2011

SIZE

16,500 SF

AWARDS

Architectural Access Board/ Boston Society of Architects, Accessible Design Honor Award
US Green Building Council Massachusetts Chapter, Design Award
IES, International, Regional and Chapter Illumination Award, Merit Award

PHOTOGRAPHY

Chuck Choi

OTHER PROJECTS