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Image 1: Seiichi Miyake, inventor of Tenji Blocks. Source: INDEPENDENT

A couple of days ago, on March 18 Google Doodle celebrated the first introduction of the tactile paving tile or “Tenji Block” (as it is known in Japan), invented by Seiichi Miyake more than 5 decades ago, in 1965. This tile gives independence to visually impaired people to go around their cities in a safer way. The motive behind this idea aroused when a close friend of Miyake was losing his sight, and he felt the need of doing something (Ryan, 2019).

The different patterns that these tiles have are a kind of braille language to warn visually challenged individuals of upcoming dangers. For example, the dome pattern indicates the person should stop because there is a busy intersection or the edge of a train or tram platform. Additionally, the YouTuber Tom Scott explains in one of his videos: “the raised line pattern across a path means there are steps ahead, or along a path indicates a safe route to follow, and if it’s a path that is half cycleway and half foot traffic the direction of the stripes will tell you which side to go through”. And they also come in different colours as red and yellow, for those who are partially blind.

Image 2: Types of Tenji blocks. Source: Design Real
Image 3 & 4: (Left) Stripe patterns indicating a cycleway and a footpath. Source: WeCapable. (Right) Dome pattern used next to a train track. Source: David Boyne

These bumpy surfaces were first installed next to a school for the blind in the Japanese city of Okayama, and nowadays we have seen how they have spread around the globe, being first introduced in the UK in the 1990s. And although some might consider them as uncomfortable to walk on (i.e. people with arthritis or mobility issues), they have “revolutionised the way those with limited vision interact with the world” (Ryan, 2019).

Image 5: Visually impaired making use of the tiles. Source: Gazeta.PL

Here we see the importance of designing places that suit the needs of individuals of different ages, abilities, etc. It’s is a challenge to support all those users at the same time, specifically on streets, where their design will determine how pedestrian-friendly a city is. And this is what it is called “Universal Design”, that the National Disability Authority (NDA), defines as:

“…design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability… It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits.”

Image 6: Bumpy surface at the edge of a crosswalk tell an approaching visually impaired individual he is about to step out into the street. Source: Metro

For this reason, Esfandfard, Hussaini & Che (2018) state the role urban public spaces have in the good life quality of people living in the city, and how using universal design strategies on them means achieving higher social equity. In other words, inclusive and accessible design to all, specifically the vulnerable users as people with disabilities or elders.


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One response to “Universal Design in Urban Public Spaces: “Tenji Blocks””

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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