Design for the Multi-Impaired


Many subtleties were used to make this maintenance-free dormitory and school for the multiply impaired look like a residence and not a hospital; notice that the window side-lites look like shutters, notice the gabled roofs and copper gutters, and see how the use of porches, railings, and chimneys changes the scale and approach-ability of the building.


Many subtleties were used to make this maintenance-free dormitory and school for the multiply impaired look like a residence and not a hospital; notice that the window side-lites look like shutters, notice the gabled roofs and copper gutters, and see how the use of porches, railings, and chimneys changes the scale and approach-ability of the building.

When asked to design a prototype for a facility for multiply impaired children, Dennis Kowal Architects created a two-level house-like facility and even added a two car garage that acts as a covered ambulance transport during emergencies and as a weather-enclosed recreation room the remainder of the time.The St. Joseph’s Sisters of Peace operate Concordia House as a school and dormitory for children with both blindness and other disabilities.Their desire was a non-institutional building that provided warmth and comfort to the children and their visiting families.

A number of ground-breaking ideas were incorporated into the design including a two-tone wood trim way-finding which was stained to signal which floor you are on, touch and color panels to identify rooms when a child is unable to learn braille, and specially designed bathrooms that facilitate self-care.A commercial kitchen serves the dining hall but the kitchen was conceived as a training kitchen as well, with low-height baking stations and a dine-in area for the students to enjoy.

Ease of access and safety were high priorities in the design which has four grade exits, an elevator, and extra wide corridors. 


Ease of access and safety were high priorities in the design which has four grade exits, an elevator, and extra wide corridors. 

For those with partial vision, dark stained doors identify the lower level and light doors with dark trim to identify the upper level. Custom sconces also were designed to compliment the theme.


For those with partial vision, dark stained doors identify the lower level and light doors with dark trim to identify the upper level. Custom sconces also were designed to compliment the theme.

The lattice theme and playful green tiles add a little fun to this facility for blind and disabled children.


The lattice theme and playful green tiles add a little fun to this facility for blind and disabled children.

Inserts next to each bedroom door have uniquely different colors and textures so that the most severely impaired students can still identify their room.


Inserts next to each bedroom door have uniquely different colors and textures so that the most severely impaired students can still identify their room.

Natural light, plants, and a variety of locations to train for cooking, cleaning, and independent living are combined in this 17 bed facility.


Natural light, plants, and a variety of locations to train for cooking, cleaning, and independent living are combined in this 17 bed facility.

Dennis Kowal Architects is an advocate for the developmentally
disabled and designs for their needs.

Design for the Blind


DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS has been designing for the blind, physically handicapped, handicapped, autistic, developmentally disabled, and learning disabled for 30 years and their completed work creates a friendly environment without shouting “special needs”. "I learned a long time ago that blindness for most is just a characteristic like short or tall and it comes with its own challenges and limitations; but it is not necessarily a disability” says Dennis Kowal about his experiences with the many blind professionals who conduct rather normal lives.   The majority of the visually impaired get around without a white cane (less than 35% use a cane) or a guide dog (less than 3% use a guide dog).   As a person ages, there is a one in ten chance of major vision loss but then their needs may be different as they may no longer drive, go to school or work.

At the National Headquarters of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Dennis's design was based on orthogonal geometry, the easiest navigation system. Curves can disorient whereas ninety degree turns are easier to follow for someone with no vision. That same person  composes a picture of the space from sensing the perimeter as opposed to walking into the middle and looking around as a sighted person might.  Therefore, the placement of furniture and removing obstacles at the perimeter became important to the design process.  Finally, acoustics also help compose the picture.  Large volumes sound different than small spaces or lower ceilings.  And just as too many colors is garish for the sighted, too many sounds can be annoying to the visually impaired.

Cleanly designed edges with the minimum of obstacles are friendly to both the sighted and unsighted.


Cleanly designed edges with the minimum of obstacles are friendly to both the sighted and unsighted.

The visually impaired enjoy the same things as everyone else;  fresh air, the warmth of the sun on their face,  and a glare-free environment. Mechanical shades reduce glare and control the natural light in this lobby.


The visually impaired enjoy the same things as everyone else;  fresh air, the warmth of the sun on their face,  and a glare-free environment. Mechanical shades reduce glare and control the natural light in this lobby.

Since many will enjoy the cafeteria, a connection to the beautiful site through full height windows can still be enjoyed by many. Overhangs and the nearby woods itself provide natural shading and sound panels in the ceiling control noise. 


Since many will enjoy the cafeteria, a connection to the beautiful site through full height windows can still be enjoyed by many. Overhangs and the nearby woods itself provide natural shading and sound panels in the ceiling control noise. 

Operable windows bring in fresh air to the office area and exterior shading devices allow  Daylight to brighten the interior without glare.


Operable windows bring in fresh air to the office area and exterior shading devices allow  Daylight to brighten the interior without glare.

The wetlands were protected by separating the building from the parking lot with this boardwalk through the woods. Both the sighted and unsighted enjoy a walk in the woods and the wide berth allows guide dogs to pass.


The wetlands were protected by separating the building from the parking lot with this boardwalk through the woods. Both the sighted and unsighted enjoy a walk in the woods and the wide berth allows guide dogs to pass.

The building wall embraces an outdoor eating area providing a sense of enclosure with the freedom of a wall-less room.


The building wall embraces an outdoor eating area providing a sense of enclosure with the freedom of a wall-less room.

The bottom line is always the happiness of the occupants even in the processing areas where books on tape are distributed across the nation to the visually impaired.


The bottom line is always the happiness of the occupants even in the processing areas where books on tape are distributed across the nation to the visually impaired.

This 83,000-volume Master Tape Library is the largest educational resource of its kind in the world and Dennis designed three continuous movable shelving systems to handle the product. These 12’ tall carousels are 80’ long and rotate by computer signal to bring the selected audio master tape to an operator for duplicating.


This 83,000-volume Master Tape Library is the largest educational resource of its kind in the world and Dennis designed three continuous movable shelving systems to handle the product. These 12’ tall carousels are 80’ long and rotate by computer signal to bring the selected audio master tape to an operator for duplicating.

DKA created custom designed conveyor systems that recognize specific tapes and automatically distribute them.

DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS designs for the blind, dyslexic and physically handicapped.