Jun 18, 2019 | Updated: 10:07 AM EDT

Miyake's Tenji Tiles Reaches 52 Years in Use

Mar 19, 2019 08:50 AM EDT

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Photo of subway showing blisters-patterned tiles
(Photo : Free-Photos)

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Seiichi Miyake graced the Google Doodle as his invention reaches its 52nd year in use. The Japanese inventor is behind the genius concept of tactile blocks that guide the visually impaired to get from point A to point B.

It was when a close friend started losing their sense of sight that Miyake has come up with the idea of incorporating the concept of Braille into pavements so that visually impaired people would be able to know the safe paths to take. Thus, "Tenji" blocks started appearing in public places since then.

The name "Tenji" was taken from the Japanese term for braille. The main idea that Miyake has was to have raised bumps on pavements so that when a visually impaired person happens to tap it with their cane, they would know whether to continue walking or to take a different path. Dots on the pavement would mean "danger up ahead" while bars tell them "safe path to travel".

Ten-ji Block, tactile pavings, photographed in Hiroshima, Japan.
(Photo : Haragayato)

In 1967, the tactile blocks were first used near the Okayama School for the Blind. In 1975, the Japanese National Railways mandated the use of the Tenji block in all their platforms. It was during this time when the popularity of Miyake's invention took a soared through the roof.

In the 1990s, the United States and the United Kingdom both came to use the tactile blocks in their subway stations and crosswalks. London's Victoria and Albert Museum is holding a tile made by the manufacturer that Miyake founded in 1974. In 2016, the tiles were being made with a polyurethane material, as opposed to the first ones which were cast in cement. 

Over the years, the color of the blocks became an issue at one point. The bright color helps those with partial vision impairment to see the paths formed by the times. However, designers would argue at how the color of the tiles stick out and disrupts the design of the space. In 2000, researchers have found out that the Tenji blocks can be a little bit darker in hue, and the partially sighted will still be able to see the path. This compromise became a solution for the design problem while still helping the partially sighted, serving its main purpose. 

Nowadays, there are a number of patterns produces that are based on the "Tenji" tiles and are being used in different pavements. For bicycle lanes, the tiles serve as a reminder for bike riders to switch to their lane whenever they are on the wrong one. Corduroy tiles, as they call it, mark the bottom of staircases. Bar-patterned tiles are used in sidewalks to signal a safe path that pedestrians can take. Bus stops are marked with the use of lozenge-patterned tiles. Of course, the ones used in platform stations, known as "blister"-patterned tiles, identical to Miyake's design, indicate where the platform ends and the train begins.

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