Body concious design

First published in Castlemaine Independent as “Sitting Disaster”

Body Conscious Design, a lecture by Dr Galen Cranz at the School for F.M. Alexander Studies in Melbourne recently confirmed for me chairs are a disaster physiologically. What I found interesting was that Galen is an academic – so her ideas are well researched, but as an Alexander Technique teacher, her research and understanding is also internal, or felt through experience. You can see she has done allot of work – internal body-work and the design of her own living and working (furniture and spaces).

This lecture and other articles point to the health impacts of sitting and sedentary lifestyles. I’m now going to redesign my families living… well it will be a long process but chairs will be first in the firing line, and a new office stool design is already formulating.

Here’s a couple of points from the lecture:

  • Knees should be lower than hips when sitting – preferably with feet flat on floor. This means a higher seat
  • A flat firm surface is best – sit bones transferring weight to the chair rather than compressed flesh transferring the weight (as in an upholstered seat). Some new research on blood flow concludes this is very bad
  • If a firm surface is fatiguing or uncomfortable to sit on initially, this is a great sign to move or change posture get up, walk or lie down every now and then in ‘constructive rest’ – on firm surface (carpet) lie on your back, knees up, feet flat on floor, head on 3cm book, arms by side, palms up, you can strap knees if they tend to fall sideways. This is an anatomically neutral position that assists in discovering and unravelling stresses in the body.
  • Sitting in a car is also bad, thankfully we don’t have to do much of that in Castlemaine. If you have bucket seats in your car put a book and a towel on them to make it firmer and remove the ‘bucket’
  • Try to maintain the ‘S’ curve of the spine especially the lumbar curve – get your computer screen up at the right height (eye level) so not you are not looking down / stooping ie spine in a ‘C’ curve. Time for the external keyboard for the laptop – forearms are horizontal. Seat and desk height need to be reconciled for this, with screen on a box.
  • Head balanced over shoulders is good ie not leaning into the back rest. Tilting forward perched on the front edge of the seat helps this.
  • Change is good, get up, keep moving, “the best posture is the next one” this is work design – like placing the phone out of reach so you have to get up to answer.
  • Galen likes the Capisco chair this is the saddle type chair that assists the tilted forward, torso upright position.

Basically chairs are a disaster and the history of this is interesting, but one of the reasons I didn’t think about is the “vast infrastructure” of tables – they are generally all wrong for specific tasks – eating, working, reading etc. and chairs are designed to comply.

Professor Cranz is Professor of Architecture at Berkeley (US). She’s a Ph.D. sociologist, designer, author, lecturer, and certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, a system of body-mind postural education. Her research specialities are urban parks, chairs and body conscious design, and qualitative research methods. She teaches courses in social and cultural processes in architecture and urban design, including research methods. Current research activity includes body conscious design, the sociology of taste, ethnography for design, and post-occupancy evaluation.

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