Christopher Downey, AIA, earns award, gives eloquent acceptance speech

SACRAMENTO, Calif.-The American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC), recognized Christopher Downey, AIA as the 2016 Norma Sklarek Award Recipient.

This marks the third year since the award’s inception, given in honor of the late Norma Sklarek, FAIA, whose name is associated with a litany of firsts, including the first African-American woman to become a member of the AIA (1959), and the first African-American woman to become a Fellow of the AIA (1980), is conferred by the AIACC Board of Directors on an architect in recognition of their social responsibility. The purpose of the award is to publicly recognize an architect making significant humanitarian contributions to society.

Downey has been an architect since 1995. In 2008, he lost his sight and thusly began practicing architecture with a new and different perspective. “I always tell people I am without sight, not without vision,” he said.

Downey has given TED Talks about his philosophies on creating and designing not just with the blind, or the disabled in mind, but all people. “Imagine living in a city where everyone could easily navigate the public transit system,” he asks of his audience in one of the lectures.

Besides his own practice, Architecture for the Blind, Downey serves on the Board of Directors for Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco, and was featured in AIA’s #ilookup video campaign. He teaches accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley, and has been featured on several continuing education videos.

As for receiving the award, Downey said this in his acceptance speech: “It is humbling to be recognized under Norma’s purview. There is always an opportunity to bring people together, especially when it comes to the design world. Architects design for all people.”


The AIACC represents the interests of more than 11,000 architects and allied professionals in California. Founded in 1944, The AIACC’s mission supports architects in their endeavors to improve the quality of life for all Californians by creating more livable communities, sustainable designs and quality work environments. Today, The AIACC is the largest component of the national AIA organization. For more information, visit

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