Last weekend, while visiting a friend at her apartment in Arlington, Va., I had the strangest sensation. Walking just the few steps from the elevator to her door, I suddenly felt absolutely sick to my stomach. We had eaten dinner about an hour earlier, so I thought my reaction was to the food. But on the way out of the apartment, I had the same nauseated, faint feeling by the time I reached the elevator. On this second trip, I realized that it wasn’t the food—it was the carpet that lined the hallways!
Besides my need-to-break habit of staring at the ground when I walk—which can potentially have a dizzying effect on its own—the carpet in this building featured the most visually challenging designs. They literally made my head spin.
Later that week, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my unfortunate experience. An article in the Denver Post reports that the new Denver Art Museum is causing some of its visitors to leave with symptoms of vertigo. In this instance, it’s not the decoration that’s making people sick, but the architecture of the building. There’s no stable horizon, for one thing.
“In the new art museum, walls slant away from the edges of the winding ‘canyon walk’ staircase. Visitors descending the long stairways often clutch the guardrail,” writes Denver Post staff writer Katy Human.
Why do carpets and weird walls make us dizzy? I checked out our Dana Guide to Brain Health, which reports that we can experience symptoms of dizziness when our brains get sensory readings that don’t match up, such as walls or carpet patterns that seem to be moving. Luckily, the continuous feedback cycle of information we get through touch, vision, hearing and our internal levels (such as the inner ear) usually works just fine, allowing us to walk, run, and dance without a problem.
The article also cited the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as other buildings known to have “unintended consequences.” I’d watch my step, there, as well.
-- Allison Bush