• The Architecture of Deafness: Two-Hundred Years of the Deaf School as an Architectural Type in the United States, 1817–2017
    Jeffrey Mansfield

Gate House, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, Frederick Clarke Withers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Deaf schools are architecturally and spatially ambiguous. Featuring elements of campus and asylum architecture, their intentions are unclear: Were they to educate or exclude? Through welfare, assimilation, and empowerment, deaf schools tell a broader story of evolving attitudes towards deafness, disability, and normalcy. Their story is one of biology, pathology, politics, and power. The deaf school represents what Michel Foucault described as "heterotopia," physically and cognitively separated from society. For many of its pupils, however, the deaf school was the site of earliest interactions with other deaf people, and resulted in subversive behaviors and outcomes. Architectural discourse has tended to focus on more visible structures like prisons, factories, and hospitals, and although the story of the deaf school remains largely untold, it is inscribed into the bricks and mortar and onto the grounds of deaf schools throughout America, with much to offer in architectural, educational, and psychological discourse.

Jeffrey Mansfield is a designer whose work explores the intersection of architecture, landscape, and language. His work has been published in AD, Tacet, ArchitectureBoston, and Coronagraph, and exhibited internationally at the Sharjah Biennial, the Bergen Assembly, Sao Paulo Biennial, and MoMA PS1. He currently works as a design and research associate at MASS Design Group in Boston. Previously, he worked at Adam Sokol Architecture Practice (Buffalo), Kennedy Violich Architecture (Boston), and HHF Architekten (Basel). He holds an MArch from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He has been deaf since birth and attended a school for the deaf in Massachusetts.