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Urban Reflexologies

Geoff Manaugh is an editor at Archinect and the author of BLDGBLOG. He recently completed his first novel, about architecture and surveillance in London.

china9.jpg In 2005, researchers funded by the National Institute of Aging tested the effectiveness of walking on cobblestones as a means to stimulate pressure points on the bottom of subjects’ feet. The results implied that daily walking on flat, paved, urban surfaces can lead to a kind of reflexological atrophy in one’s arches, heels, and toes. This was found to affect much larger, and more serious, health issues, including blood pressure and bodily immunity.

Paved into the flat surfaces of roads and sidewalks, in other words, are illnesses, long-term injuries that otherwise disguise themselves as aging.

Those researchers then found that "walking on a cobblestone mat surface resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure and improvements in balance and physical performance among adults 60 and over." Out of those tests thus came the design of a new cobblestone mat that specifically engages with "the principles of reflexology, in that the uneven surface of the cobblestones stimulates and regulates 'acupoints'… purportedly linked to all organs and tissues of the body." Short walks across these mats should therefore be considered a form of preventive medicine.

My point, however, is not to draw undue attention upon the benefits of cobblestone mats, but to infer from their existence that other, seemingly trivial redesigns of everyday objects, from pens to stairways, could improve our health.

Famously, for instance, a cinema in Japan has begun to use carefully timed smells as emotional triggers during specific film scenes; could a similar technique be applied elsewhere – aromatherapy on the scale of whole cities? Or, instead of seeing a psychoanalyst, you go to watch a scented film…

On the other hand, perhaps there are specifically colored paints that, when applied to cars, work to assuage a driver’s impulse toward road rage, lowering blood pressure?

More realistically speaking, the question becomes: what other forms of illness exist, designed into our products and cities? What overlooked reflexologies now lie dormant, for instance, under-served by the world of modern objects? Are there fabrics that, when brushed against the skin, release endorphins – and, thus, whole new lines of clothing that work as alternative antidepressants?

How can design itself – a sustained and rigorous remolding of the world – be used as a form of preventive medicine?

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There are many instances of design that's unhealthy, such as high power lines near homes, the questionable effects of microwaves and cell phones close to your brain, and so forth. These are 'didn't think of it' kind of problems, rather than 'decided to do the unhealthy thing because it was cheaper' problems.

An example of the latter might be building single-walled oil tankers, or drilling in ANWR :-)

The point being that environmental concerns *are* health concerns. Sustainability (in part) means taking everything into consideration and finding the best possible outcome, including health effects.

Posted by: Enoch Root on 7 May 06

An excellent point.

Here's why I don't see it happen:

1. Gauging the benefits for a society together is tricky if not impossible.

2. Aesthetics can never be made uniform. Some of these improvements will be rejected just on the basis of commonality.

Posted by: Aayush Iyer on 7 May 06

Do I have to buy into "acupressure points" to believe in this?

Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 7 May 06

Actauly in the vast majority of cases the power lines predate the homes that go in under them.

Posted by: wintermane on 7 May 06

Following one of the links in the article, there was no evidence that the researchers studied whether the rocks put pressure on "accupoints" and not other non-accupoints. Or that the extra stress on muscles and tendons from the irregularities wasn't extra exercise (a good thing). The "accupoint" pseudo-science detracts from the rest of the article and the comments by Geoff at the end.

Posted by: Barry on 9 May 06

Well from my own experience you can get great results simply by walking uneven soft walking paths that go up and down and along slopes.

And if you realy want some of the benfit try uneven tile flooring as well as uneven brick pathways.

Posted by: wintermane on 9 May 06

Im excited about all these nodes of anthropods undergoing a make-over/redesign to adjust to the pressures of human society. If there any intersting projects happening around melbourne, please let me know!

Posted by: warri oviedo on 9 May 06



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