Is Our Furniture Killing Us?

Architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins have the radical idea that our addiction to comfort and safety is killing us. Their solution: designing houses and apartments where no surface is even, with awkward and even dangerous passages between rooms, where buying your own furniture is impossible. Living in their buildings forces the occupant to think about each and every step.They promise eternal life (an exaggeration for the sake of making a point) and a return to youthfulness.

“At least one tenant says he feels a little younger already. Nobutaka Yamaoka, who moved in with his wife and two children about two years ago, says he has lost more than 20 pounds and no longer suffers from hay fever, though he isn’t sure whether it was cured by the loft.” []

Having encountered Arakawa and Madeline Gins work several years ago, I’ve been haunted by the crazy idea that we should immediately get rid of all of our normal furniture for the sake of our future heath. Having done a lot of running and far too little stretching, Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s middle-aged body has gotten increasingly stiff. Mrs. Homegrown describes me as having the flexibility of a “ginger bread man.” And yet I see our 70+ year-old Chinese neighbors doing all their garden work while nimbly crouched low to the ground, in a posture I doubt most native born Westerners half their age could mimic. Their health and flexibility is, no doubt, due in part to cultural and architectural differences. Switching out our Western furniture for a down-on-the-floor type arrangement would force me to incorporate stretching as a part of my daily routine rather than separating it out as an activity (like yoga) that I never seem to get around to doing.

Arakawa and Madeline Gins heretical ideas are all about the unseen and unintended consequences of convenience. It reminds me of using a bicycle for transportation–it may be more dangerous and often takes more time than driving–but think about the benefits to both body and mental sharpness (dodging all those SUVs). How about running without shoes? I’m convinced that the arch support in the shoes I’ve worn all my life has weakened the muscles in my feet and led directly to a painful case of plantar fasciitis that took a year and a half to heal. How about running barefoot as an alternative? How about keeping bees as nature intended as the Backwards Beekeepers do while we’re at it? In fact all of these heretical notions, counter to conventional wisdom, could be grouped under the “backwards” banner.

I could go on, but don’t worry. We still like clothes . . .

See more pictures of Arakawa and Madeline Gins innovative work here.

And a video:

Sadly, according to a poorly written article in the Wall Street Journal, the couple seems to have been caught up in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme forcing them to close their Manhattan office.

Share this post

Leave a comment


  1. My fiance is chinese (from macau) and i’m ethnically half korean. she can’t stand that I like to sit on the floor and have things low to the ground. I think our couch is way too big and too high off the ground. It’s too bad these architects would have to suffer from all the liability issues here in the states. if only we could turn around this culture that sues.

  2. i watched the video after i posted. I love it. i think this is great. and ah.. yes the solution to liability is in the private home. hope they make it back from that ponzi scheme someday soon. It’s a great alternative to designing. I will make my house like this.

  3. I read that WSJ article. I fail to see how losing imaginary money (suppposedly cash savings for retirement) forces a viable company to fire employees and liquidate inventory. If the business was successful, a retirement savings is not used for working capital, expenses, salaries.

    Firing long-time employees and rushing to a fire sale indicates the business failed a long time ago. It’s convenient to blame something else…pick a current demon that’s getting media time. If not Madoff, would they blame the drop in the real-estate market, or decrease in extravagant spending?

Comments are closed.