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Architecture/Design: Touch-stones for hand and foot

(December 2010) Every stone trade fair experiences it time and again: A stone that is aesthetically pleasing seems to draw the beholder and forces him to touch it. Some undefined force emanating from stone seems to draw us to it and forces us make contact.

This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that trade fair attendants know what stone -mostly polished- looks and feels like. Still, they will go and touch it.

Also, there are plenty of other materials with similar surfaces, e.g. glass or rolled metal. But these are almost never subject to tactile advances.

Furthermore, many people keep „pet stones“ which they carry about with them in their pocket or purse or on the dashboard of their car and which they hold in hand in moments of stress.

It seems to be a phenomenon common to all. Let us turn to ancient mythology to understand the background.

Take, for example, the story of Hercules‘ struggle with Antaeus, who challenged all passers-by to a wrestling match, killing them and collecting skulls of the vanquished to build a temple to his father Poseidon. His indefatigable strength was guaranteed as long as he remained in contact with the ground (his mother, goddess of the Earth, Gaia).

Hercules took a while to figure out why his adversary immediately recuperated when hurled to the ground. But then Hercules discovered Antaeus‘ secret: lifting him off the ground he became weak as other mortals and Hercules was able to break his bones.

The Koran also knows a wisdom fitting the subject, as a Turkish stone tradesman once told us: if enraged beyond rational thought, sit on the ground – as advised by the Holy Book of Muslims. Grounding will calm you.

Maybe there is a common truth to the Greek myth, pet stones and our observations at trade fairs: direct contact to stone surfaces can help balance our energy fields: excess energy can be channelled away and useful energy stored.

Let us then take a look at emotions, another type of energy: could stone help us manage our emotions?

At this point we must interject that no measurable energy flows when in contact with stone – we leave interpretation up to esoteric experts.

But what we can measure is that our skin creates impulses which flow to the brain. Stone, then, is a type of catalyst.

Interesting to note that contact with stone does not usually occur merely in the form of touch to feel the surface structure. This would be done by means of the finger tips.

Touching stone – particularly when touching more than for a fleeting moment – is commonly done by placing the entire hand surface on the stone.

Elsewhere scientists are busy researching for the perfect door knob or handle. The aim being to develop a design with good grip. This is deemed to send signals of security and control over the situation to our brain.

The question is, could stone be used as a type of catalyst for the tricky task of managing emotions?

This would be worth testing in, say, a dentist’s waiting room. Could a stone arm-rest help calm his nerves? Pet stones as arm rests, so to speak?

Or in a hotel, never quite like home: could pet stones worked into the wall give a rest to visitors? Or: could a type of stone anchor which a guest could touch after depositing his luggage, help him feel at home?

We recently discussed this theme with Italian designer Raffaello Galiotto. He has already realized a project in this direction: in cooperation with Chiampo-Valley companies, he developed „Un Bagno Locale“ („The Local Bathroom“) – lavatories made entirely of stone, inviting us to experience stone hand and foot and with the entire surface of our skin.

But that’s not all: after a visit to „Un Bagno Locale“ a lasting memento in form of a 5 x 14 cm stone nicely packaged, would be handed out. The project bore the name Marmo Naturale Contact.

By the way, stone is not the only material which makes our skin react. Chestnuts, e.g. fresh from the skin, give an even stronger emotional signal. It disappears when the chestnut dries.