Since its invention by Seiichi Miyake in the 1960s in Japan, tactile paving has gradually spread around the world. It is a powerful tool for orientation in any space, providing accessibility and safety, ultimately contributing to creating inclusive buildings.
This can be the difference between being able to experience architecture independently or not. The overarching goal is always to provide a safe route for travel, both in open spaces and indoors in buildings such as train stations, shopping malls, airports, banks, hospitals, offices or stadiums.
Architecture for the blind
Architecture is a multisensory discipline involving textures, colours, shadows, sounds and aromas, but it effectively uses visual language to explore it. Those who are blind or vision-impaired perceive the environment differently, in that touch becomes a language and a fundamental guide for interacting with architecture.
While the use of tactile paving is not debated, questions often arise regarding how to use and guide individuals in various scenarios.
A tactile flooring system consists of two types, namely warning and guidance. These are combined to create tactile paths that adapt to different factors and scenarios. It is important to note that manufacturing specifications may vary by region.
A pattern of detectable dots or domes designed for those who use a white cane. These should be placed at locations where critical safety information, imminent hazards and decision-making points are communicated.
Directional or guidance pavement
A pattern of lines or bars that provides clear and consistent directions for visually impaired users to follow. They should be positioned to indicate an accessible circulation route, whether outdoors or indoors, or a clear passage for pedestrians, and should assist in orientation.
In both cases, the warning and guidance pavement can be perceived through touch, either with the feet or the cane, enabling individuals to maintain a straight path and navigate safely.
Size and colour
Typically, tactile patterns are composed in tile format, and can be ceramic, concrete, rubber or plastic. The number of domes and bars may vary, depending on the size of the module – the spacing between them should therefore be adjusted according to their size. Additionally, they must provide a clear visual contrast to the adjacent walkway surfaces, either through a contrast of light over dark or dark over light. This is why yellow is usually the colour of choice.
Approaching elements and level changes
Highlight the approach to the following elements within built spaces to reduce risks for individuals with blindness and visual impairment:
Changes in level and elevation.
Unprotected and platform edges.
Slopes such as ramps, curb ramps and depressed curbs in streets.
The top and bottom of stairs and elevators.
These should always be located on the sidewalk to avoid vehicular traffic.
Position warning pavement modules in a way that minimises the distance for a frontal approach to counters, information modules or tactile-visual signage. This offers individuals an indication of the location and boundary of the object or area.
It is important to ensure that the warning pavement modules are correctly aligned and fixed, so that their termination exactly matches the front edge of the relevant object or cover. This provides a smooth and safe transition between the tactile flooring and the object.
Pathways should be easy to navigate, prioritising straight paths and 90-degree changes in direction with at least one warning pavement module, or with four or more modules when feasible, and without creating obstacles.
Redundant paths or abrupt interruptions caused by grates, drains or construction joints should be avoided. In cases where 90-degree changes of direction are not possible, efforts should be made to ensure that the change of direction does not have steep angles (maximum of 45 degrees). When it comes to unavoidable interruptions, tactile warning pavements can be used to signal their presence, following the criteria for approach and changes in level.
By emphasising the integration of tactile paving into the earliest stages of the design process, architects can maximise its impact on the overall accessibility and inclusivity of a building. When included as an essential design element, it can be incorporated into pathways, entrances and transitions, ensuring its harmonious integration with the overall aesthetic and functionality of the space.