ForestWalk_01

A Place for Yourself Everywhere.

Research has proven that time alone in outdoor nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health.  One of the Contemplative Landscape characteristics is the “sense of solitude” that one can experience when immersed in the landscape.

Yet, the urban high stress pace of life “enjoyed” by many across the globe makes finding such a spot difficult. While it is common for cities to increase their foliage, it is often hard to measure how effective their efforts are.

However, here at NeuroLandscape, our research allows up to strive further in incorporate nature into our own everyday surroundings. Creating a seamless experience that can be enjoyed by all who inhabit the same space.

You can also assess the link from here: https://www.universal-sci.com/headlines/2018/6/9/-spending-time-alone-in-nature-is-good-for-your-mental-and-emotional-health

1280px-New_crops-Chicago_urban_farm

Hidden in Plain Sight

Urban landscape surrounding most of us nowadays, offers more than just the face value that we see. Urban ecosystem services are presenting terrific potentials for the growing communities. Landscape design for health and well-being goes hand in hand with the design for fresh produce and urban farming opportunities. 

There is plenty evidence to show this dynamics. In this TED talk, we show an example from Detroit,  Devita Davison from FOODLAB Detroit brings viewers on a 12 min tour on how the city's weakness can become its future. We are so into discovering such transformative opportunities!

Landform – Contemplative Landscape Features Series

One of the core questions in our quest for making landscapes more contemplative have been identifying what actually makes a space contemplative or not. Having discussed the importance of long-distance views in an earlier post (click here), today, we turn to a characteristic under the label ‘landform’ in defining a contemplativeness of landscape. So what hides under this category? 

In a way, we can say we continue looking out into the distance, as was true in the first category we introduced. The landform category is based on contemplative features such as smoothness of the ground and manipulation of the skyline (through opening and closings of views, as well as through introducing some specific elements of the skyline) to stimulate looking up to the sky. This suggests that the subtle hills and mounds and diversified skyline would be the most desired for contemplation, thus flat or rugged landforms are expected to be weaker in the classification of their contemplativeness. 

Since there are no sharp edges or geometric figures in the natural world, smooth shapes remind us of the structures created by nature. Not only does mimicking nature in designed landscapes satisfy our need to reconnect with nature, but it is also considered the highest masterpiece of design:

[…] Growth of the vision and contemplation of nature enables him [a designer] to rise towards a metaphysical view of the world and to form free abstract structures which surpass schematic intention and achieve a new naturalness of the work. Then he creates a work … that is the image of God’s work (Klee, 1923, p. 17). 

Forms inspired by nature are very familiar to us psychologically as we all come from nature, and are marked with bio-preference, namely biophilia. In other words, we all love nature on a deep psychological level. Environments rich in natural views and imagery reduce our stress, enhance focus and concentration, and have restorative benefits as proven in research by environmental psychologists (James, 1892, 1984; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1982). Not only does actual contact with nature count, but even contact with different types of representations of it, such as posters, window views or nature-like sculptures, are sufficient to induce the biophilia effect (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1995). 

Singapore Botanic Garden

Having said that, though, “too much of nature” is not preferred. Places that are too wild or without identity will not make us feel safe. We have evolved in such a way that we don’t feel comfortable in wilderness untouched by human hands. Our evolution made us adapt to spaces where the wilderness is under control, moderated and maintained, similar to natural reserves, parks, and urban gardens. Research on landscape preference has shown that people prefer scenes with ‘tamed nature’ over ‘wild nature’’, where human intervention such as mown grass, boardwalks, and bridges are present (Kaplan et al., 1998). We also have a preference for “smooth ground” with an undulating, moundy form. Hermann, in his description of the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm (see image below) as the example of the most contemplative landscape design, seems to confirm this statement. He describes the soothing and peaceful character provided by leveling and smoothing over the ground, creating a large clearing with an elevated heart of the cemetery called Meditation Grove:

The ground here is a continuous blanket of surprisingly lush green lawn (Hermann, 2005, p. 56). 

Another interesting design strategy that purportedly triggers the contemplative response is connected with looking at the sky and its vastness, due to its “coolness and distant serenity” (Zelanski & Fisher, 1996, p. 236). In every outdoor space, the sky is the ceiling and the atmosphere of Earth is the huge dome of every landscape. Looking towards the sky delivers the longest view and a feeling of vastness. This is why looking up to the sky, watching the sunset or moving clouds, and observation of stars at night has been connected to contemplation. 

While the sky itself is not an element that can be designed, the designer can certainly use some particular tricks to stimulate the visitor to look up at the skyline (Hermann, 2005). The viewer can be stimulated to look up at the sky by managing the level of the point of view. If focal-designed elements are located above the head of the viewer, they will usually look up automatically. The easiest way to change the point of view is to sit down, then while looking around we see much less sky, and much more ground, and if the designed elements and structure is leading our attention up, we will then look up (such as benches). Also, manipulating the skyline by inserting towering elements as opposed to a flat skyline is one strategy to make us look up. The design does not have to necessarily make us raise our heads in a large or small motion, what matters is managing the attention. It can be achieved by designing a mirror of still water in which the sky reflects (Hermann, 2005; Hou, 2015). This strategy is also connected to a strong archetype of water, and can be achieved in the designed landscape by implementing equipment that makes us sit back or lay with our eyes up towards the sky. Another trick is introducing hills, mounds and a viewpoint to achieve this particular effect. 

To show a clear example of how this works in practice, let us leave you with the final image straight from the Teletubbies. The landscape with smooth undulating landform and mounds has a ‘safe haven’ sort of air about it, with calming effects for children… and adults alike.

Based on Olszewska, A. (2016) “Contemplative Values of Urban Parks and Gardens Applying Neuroscience to Landscape Architecture”, PhD thesis, University of Porto, Portugal, with some parts quoted verbatim.

Other references:

Hermann, H. (2005). On the transcendent in landscapes of contemplation. In Contemporary Landscapes of Contemplation. Krinke, R. (Ed). 36-72.

Hou, R. (2015, January). From Beijing to Washington—A Contemplation in the Concept of Municipal Planning. In Symposium on Chinese Historical Geography (pp. 61- 82). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

James, W. (1892). A plea for psychology as a'natural science'. The Philosophical Review, 1(2), 146-153.

Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, R. (1982). Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an Uncertain World.

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: T oward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology, 15(3), 169-182.

Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S., & Ryan, R. (1998).With people in mind: Design and management of everyday nature. Washington DC: Island Press.

Klee, P. (1923). Ways of Studying Nature, Lecture at the Bauhaus. New York, Roizzoli, 984, pp. 17-18

Zelanski, P. & Fisher, M. P. (1996). Design Principles & Problems. Brace College: New York. 

Images: 

  • Toronto Skyline (2010),  Photo by: Nicola Betts, Source: www.asla.org
  • Singapore Botanic Gardens 
  • Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm (Landscape Architecture Works, Landezine)  
  • Teletubbies (source: www.wikia.com)

 

4

Layers of Landscape – Contemplative Landscape Features Series

If you have ever wondered why movie characters always seem to be entrenched in deep thought while looking out far into the distance, this post is for you as it explains the science behind this magic of long-distance views.

It all comes down to a category of contemplative features of landscapes we call ‘Layers of Landscape’. It includes features such as the depth of view, which is connected directly to the visibility of three planes and the comfort of long-distance views. As one might expect, it is divided into three distance zones, foreground, middleground and background. This is demonstrated on the photograph of Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Scotland. 

In contemplative landscapes, long-distance views are vital as they account for about 70% of the ‘weight’ of the overall score of a landscape in comparison to other categories. According to many authors, being able to see far away is a feature that significantly improves the quality of landscape through the visitor’s perception capability. Long-distance views stimulate in the observer a sense of personal freedom, mental pleasure, stress reduction, an improvement of the quality of life in the city (Skalski, 2005; Tuan, 1974).

 The importance of long distance-views has also been confirmed in environmental psychology. Long-distance views are thought to stimulate the away feeling and a reorientation from every-day life (especially life within an urban context), because being away goes beyond simple “getting away from it all”, and means switching between various activities and changing the perspective of viewing things and everyday activities.

 The image below presents the City Park of Porto in Portugal; a great example of a park with one of the main functions stated as contemplation, showing just how long-distance views help to achieve this goal. The park provides many panoramic settings with very long distance views (including views reaching the ocean horizon line), and thus a contemplative experience.

A valley-corridor enables long distance panoramic views, Parque da Cidade, Porto, Portugal.

The CLASS software we developed can identify features such as the presence of long-distance views in the images it analyses and score them accordingly. While it is just one of many features of a contemplative space, the incorporation of panoramic views in landscape designs is a good start to increase their chances of fulfilling the function of promoting contemplation and relaxation of the visitors.

In this short review, we hope to have given you a few clues as to the science behind why some landscapes are more therapeutic than others. Our advice? Next time you have a chance, gaze up and into the distance, and enjoy the benefits of contemplating a landscape far into the horizon line.

Based on Olszewska, A. (2016) “Contemplative Values of Urban Parks and Gardens Applying Neuroscience to Landscape Architecture”, PhD thesis, University of Porto, Portugal, with some parts quoted verbatim.

 

Other references:

Skalski, J. (2005). “Comfort of long-distance perceiving and a landscape of river valley in towns situated on the plains”, Teka Komisji Architektury, Urbanistyki i Studiów Krajobrazowych, 1.

Yeomans, W. C. (1983), Visual Resource Assessment: A User Guide. BC, Ministry of Environment.