Two Deaf Architects Building Cities: Olof Hanson and Oleksii Nashyvochnikov

Olof Hanson and Oleksii Nashivochnikov are two Deaf architects separated by a century: Olof was born in Sweden in 1862 and Oleksii 108 years later, in 1970, Ukraine. Both are exceptional architects who have demonstrated the ability of Deaf people to plan great architecture in different generations.

Two historical deaf architects: Olof Hanson (b. 1862) on the left and Oleksii Nashyvochnikov (b. 1970) on the right photo (CC BY-SA 3.0 by AMY via Wikimedia)


Olof Hanson

Olof was the first known architect in the United States. His deafness came as a teenager within weeks of emigrating with his family from his native Sweden to the United States, so he continued his education in schools for the deaf and eventually studied at Gallaudet University, graduating at the top of his class in 1886.

After several successful years working as an architect for a prestigious firm and as a freelance professional, he married Agatha Tiegel, also deaf and the first woman to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University, at the age of 37.


Brilliant Building Designer

Olof designed many buildings, including schools, courthouses, churches, residences and shops. His buildings were characterised by the extensive use of natural light, as he was aware of the importance of the visual experience for deaf people (one of the characteristics of the DeafSpace architectural approach). He was considered a talented architect who also spent his time painting and advocating for the rights of deaf people in his time.

I am myself deaf. My greatest obstacle is not my deafness, but to overcome the prejudice and ignorance of those who do not understand what the deaf can do (Olof Hanson's letter to President Theodore Roosevel in 1908)

North Dakota School for the Deaf, designed by architect Olaf Hanson, whose construction began in 1892, when he was 30 years old. Today the building no longer exists (you can see the current location here)

The Charles Thompson Memorial Hall is one of the best preserved buildings designed by Olaf Hanson since its construction. This building, erected in 1916, was the first social club in the United States created exclusively for deaf people, with numerous large windows to let in natural light. It originally featured a large assembly hall, a bowling alley, a social hall, a maplewood dance floor, and a children's play area. In 2011 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in American architecture and social history (you can visit the official Charles Thompson Memorial Hall website here).

Charles Thompson Memorial Hall building in Minnesota (USA), designed by Olaf Hanson and built in 1916 (left photo: charlesthompsonhall.org, right photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 by McGhiever, via Wikimedia)

The following video shows an interior tour of the building in 2019:


Oleksii Nashyvochnikov

Oleksii graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture of Ukraine, later completing his architectural studies with a Master's degree in 2004 at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine's leading university.

It was not easy to get there. At first, his family wanted him to attend a mainstream school but he was excluded, so he eventually ended up studying at a school for deaf children. To carry out his work, Oleksii has no qualms about taking pen and paper to write, as well as communicating by email or lip-reading, although he prefers to communicate in Sign Language. Pen and paper is how Oleksii communicated with his teachers at the University of Kiev. "I had no concessions," he says, recalling his time at the university.


Architect of Nine Metro Stations in Kiev

Since 2004, Oleksii has been working in an architectural studio where he has planned up to nine metro stations in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, together with other architects. If you travel to Kiev and take the metro as a means of transport around the city, it is very likely that you will be passing through one of the stations designed by this brilliant deaf architect.

Some of the metro stations planned by the deaf architect Oleksii Nashyvochnikov, from left to right and from top to bottom: Teremky, Vasylkivska, Syrets and Goloseevskaya (photos: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Dmitry Trikutko and AMY, via Wikimedia)


In the following video, we can see Oleksii in a report from 2019 that examines his professional career and the importance of his family (video in Ukrainian sign language and Ukrainian subtitles):


Multifaceted Architect, Activist and Painter

Oleksii is also passionate about art and spends part of his time painting pictures and cycling. He is a member of the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf (where he is also a sign language teacher), and president of the Union of Deaf Artists of Kiev since 2017, from which he organises exhibitions, promotes deaf art and activities to instil the value of art in deaf children.

We don't know where he finds the time for all this, but you can follow Oleksii on social media and try to find out:

Two of the works painted by Oleksii Nashyvochnikov


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