Chris Harrowell's Story

Chris Harrowell's Story

Chris travelled along the East and West Coasts of the USA and Canada, investigating timber frame architecture, construction techniques and energy conservation.

The Fellowship

Chris visited a number of organisations specialising in timber and steel lightweight construction. Being deaf, Christopher was particularly interested to be shown around Gallaudet University in Washington and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he met deaf students involved in design and construction courses and deaf professionals who had qualified as architects and were working in their own practices.  This sparked a lifelong interest in inclusive design, which has driven his career to date.

During the Fellowship, Chris saw a number of techniques that were innovative at the time and not being used in the UK, including multi-storey timber frame construction, lightweight cladding, insulated composite wall and floor systems and basements constructed in timber panels. Since then, some of these techniques have been adopted in the UK, with the shift in awareness of energy efficiency and speed of construction.

The Results

On his return, Chris disseminated his report and followed it up with a series of presentations to architects and other interested professionals in the UK. The publication of details of his Fellowship on Ceefax led to contact with other deaf architects in the UK, and another in Greece. He was also contacted by the education officer at the former Royal National Institute for the Deaf, who he met with to discuss the education of deaf architectural students.

An opportunity soon arose for Chris to develop his interest in disability and inclusive design with a firm of architects in St Albans, who were leaders in the field at the time. This enabled him to design residential care homes for people with mobility and sensory disabilities and to work with others in the voluntary sector, occupational therapy and design professions.

Chris then moved to a large commercial company operating in a major London Borough, where he became an access consultant advising on the new National Stadium, improvements to local authority buildings, housing adaptations for disabled people and the Schools Access Initiative. During the years that followed he was able to work closely with groups of disabled people and was struck by the physical and attitudinal barriers, however subtle, which they encountered on a daily basis.

This led to participation in the first part-time postgraduate course in Inclusive Access at the Architectural Association. During this time he was also delivering lectures on designing inclusively for people with hearing loss at the University of Reading Inclusive Environments MSc course and at conferences organised by the Centre for Accessible Environments and the National Register of Access Consultants, of which he became a member.

Chris now has his own practice as an inclusive design consultant and work with architects and design teams on arts and theatre projects, listed buildings, education, healthcare and housing adaptations.