Photograph of London skyline with the Thames through the middle and The Shard on the right

Architecture

Since 2006 VocalEyes has been leading the way in the development of audio-described architecture tours in the UK. We bring together architects, building owners and users, designers, artists, curators and describers in exciting and inspiring collaborations for all those involved.

Information for architects, designers, historians and curators

The VocalEyes approach to architectural tours is about accessibility in its widest sense, developing deeper understandings of inclusive design.

This not only fulfils the requirements of current legislation in relation to the access of facilities and services, but has relevance for a range of people, whether involved with the design and running of a building, or wishing to learn more about it.

A live interactive audio described tour opens up your building to a wider audience, provides positive exposure and increases general awareness.

For architects and designers the tours offer a unique opportunity for professional development. The experience of examining the building from an audio describer’s perspective offers an exciting new way of looking and thinking about our built environment.

Steve Taylor from Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the Project architect for The Johnson Building, points out that one of an architect’s key skills is in communicating and presenting an idea to an audience, typically the client. He goes on to say…

“…an opportunity to try and explain the building I was so heavily involved with to a different type of audience was very intriguing. I would certainly do it again, I think it’s been enlightening. To start to think about a building that you know so intimately but to think about it in a different way is quite a unique opportunity. I think as a practice we would continue to be involved and I would certainly recommend it to colleagues.”

Audio description enables a deeper understanding of architectural space. By imagining how blind and partially sighted people interpret the environment through touch, sound, smell, light, contrast and colour, these very qualities are vividly highlighted.

In having to accurately describe what an exterior or interior is like, visual and interpretative skills are developed alongside an evocative language to express it.

It also offers an opportunity to improve public speaking techniques and confidence.

Not only do we organise audio described tours, but we can also provide visual awareness training, enabling venues to offer a wider and more accessible welcome to visitors. As one VocalEyes trained sighted guide put it…

“I got much more out of the experience than I put in. Not only the experience of guiding but also greater empathy for a visually impaired person’s situation. The tour was also fascinating.”

Information for blind and partially sighted people taking an audio described architecture tour

Once a place has been booked on an audio described tour of a building, you will be sent an introductory CD to listen to. This will include some general information about the building, its history and what to expect during the tour itself.

The CD also contains access information including how to get there, meeting points and any other relevant details. The information on the CD will also be available on the website where it can be read as a text document, played or downloaded as an mp3.

An audio described tour is a live interactive event and generally lasts about 90 minutes. In some cases there is a workshop prior to the tour, which can include the opportunity to explore a tactile scale model of the building. There are also examples of building materials that can be handled.

Both the workshop and the tour are led by a professional VocalEyes describer together with an architectural expert. There may also be input from a curator or someone with an intimate knowledge of the building. During the preparation period, the describer works closely with these experts, drawing on their professional knowledge.

The content of the tour and workshop are designed, written and rehearsed beforehand to ensure that they tell the ‘story’ of the building in an interesting and informative way. This includes opportunities for questions and the chance to experience the space through touch. While great attention is paid to the detail of the preparation, the tours have a relaxed informal approach, encouraging spontaneous discussion.

Numbers are limited to ensure that the presentation and movement around the building is a practical and enjoyable experience for everyone.

If necessary, repeat tours are arranged to accommodate demand. The tours include breaks for refreshments, if appropriate. If anyone taking part requires assistance, this can be arranged beforehand on request.

Each tour is unique to the particular building or space, so details of exact arrangements will vary.

For more information about audio-described architecture tours. contact Toby Davey, Deputy Director on 020 7375 1043 or email toby@vocaleyes.co.uk.

A case study into VocalEyes audio-described architecture tours

VocalEyes has delivered audio-described tours of new and historical buildings as part of London Beyond Sight (2012), for the London Festival of Architecture 2008 and 2010, and as part of Open House London since 2007. You can listen to recorded introductions to all those buildings in our Audio Library.