New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired


    Albuquerque, NM

Program     Create an environment that supports how blind preschoolers learn through play and exploration.

Dekker / Perich /   Sabatini

Project Architect
Benjamin Gardner, AIA


Principal in Charge     
Daniel Kemme, AIA


Interior Designer  
Emily Thaler


Design Team

Sara Zahm

Kelli Jameson

Brian Barnes



Project Summary

This 37,000 square-foot preschool for blind and visually impaired children was designed to support student mobility, safety, and independence through a multi-sensory design.




All students are blind or visually impaired three- to five-year-olds, and several are deaf-blind. Many have multiple physical or cogni­tive impairments, which require wheelchairs, canes and assisted communication devices.  With few precedents for this type of building to draw from, and no relevant state standards for such space sizes, an extensive programming process for the project took place, involving teachers and focusing on a detailed needs assessment.





The children’s needs, abilities and educational curriculum inspired the design team to make every space both multifunctional and playful. The main corridor of the building leads to each classroom “cluster,” and is a learning tool of its own. A class­room cluster unit includes large, flexible classroom space, an adjacent focus room and direct access to a shared changing room, storage room and common room. Multisensory wayfinding cues that let the children identify that they’ve arrived at their cluster, classroom or playground door. Acoustics, lighting, floor pattern, color palette and texture all change with each destination.


Classes are grouped based on students’ capa­bilities and lesson plans. Each cluster has a theme (earth, water or plants) that influenced the color palette. A “fun wall”—which includes exposed CMU block, a layering of tackable acoustic wall panels and gypsum lower wall for activities such as stacking toys or playing with cars—exists for inde­pendent learning activities as well as wayfinding and space recognition. Also incorporated into the site design are a sensory garden, special playground equipment and a bike training track.




To the visually impaired, lighting and color are as important as sound and touch. Color schemes and lighting plans contribute to the multisensory experience. Color is an important teaching tool for students with impaired but usable vision, and is also important for everyone who experiences the space, especially the parents.