WASHINGTON (WUSA) - Dozens gathered to get a first glance of the newest edition to Gallaudet University, the Living and Learning Residence Hall 6 (LLRH6).
The state-of-the-art building, located in the only university in the U.S. fully dedicated to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, might look like an ordinary structure from the exterior but it's far from that.
The LLRH6 is the first of its kind to be entirely constructed and designed with DeafSpace architectural concepts - which facilitates communication among those using sign language without obstructing their view.
"I'm very happy to be the first person to sign up and to be living in this dorm," Tony Tatum, junior and Football player, told the crowd during the opening reception on Friday.
Tatum continued speaking about his experience at the new dormitory since moving into the building a week prior and suddenly paused.
"I feel like I'm being interviewed by the press at the NFL," Tatum said as he chuckled and continued sharing his experiences thus far.
The five story structure has 60,000 square feet and holds 175 beds. The building was designed in collaboration with students, staff and faculty. Every design detail was carefully executed to heighten sensory awareness, paying particular attention to space and proximity, lighting and color contrasts.
"Even the seats have a purpose," said Robert Sirvage, DeafSpace Design Researcher at Gallaudet. "We didn't want any armrests because we are using our hands while signing and if we move to view another person for conversation those armrests get in the way. For us it's easier to be able to maneuver ourselves in the seat in any direction."
And its details like this that make Tatum feel right at home.
"I love it already," he said. "You can see everything, making it easy to communicate and that's what I like about it. On the second floor you can see the whole campus through the windows; you can see people walking around."
Each dormitory floor s equipped with a fully functioning kitchen, living area, gym and laundry facilities. The first floor is open to the entire campus and includes a common area for socializing or meetings and a Co-lab, where students can collaborate on different projects.
"The LLRH6 also uses geothermal heating and cooling, this system is a natural system and it is a renewable resource," Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz said.
Through these sustainability efforts the university hopes to cut energy usage by 24% and save $24.2 million in utility and operational costs over the next 10 years.
"It certainly doesn't end here, we will remain on the forefront of deaf education and in order to do that we must continue to be innovative," Hurwitz said.
So how does a student get to live in these swanky quarters?
The university is sticking to its traditional point system based on the students GPA. Students with the "best academics tend to get the first choice in which dorm they'd like to stay in."
LLRH6 currently houses sophomores through seniors. Long term, the adjacent building will be either renovated or demolished to become another DeafSpace student housing area.
"At that point this building will become the new freshmen dorm," Sirvage said.
As of now, Tatum is the only student in the building. The halls are quiet except when the occasional groups of visitors stroll by taking a tour of the facility.
"I'm looking forward for other students to move into the area and experience this space here, it's beautiful," he said.