What is nature in the space?
Nature in the space involves the direct, physical, and momentary presence of nature in a space or location. This includes plant life, water, and animals, as well as sunlight, breezes, sounds, scents, and other natural elements.
Potted plants, flowerbeds, bird feeders, butterfly gardens, water features, fountains, aquariums, courtyard gardens, and green walls or vegetated roofs are common examples.
What are the main benefits of nature in the space?
The direct experience of nature in the space has been related to multiple benefits, for example:
- The presence of natural light positively impacts circadian system functioning (Figueiro et al. 2011; Beckett and Roden 2009)
- Thermal and airflow variability positively impacts comfort and well-being (Heerwagen 2006; Tham and Willem 2005), and increases concentration (Hartig et al. 2003)
- Presence of water reduces stress, increases feelings of tranquillity, lowers heart rate and blood pressure (Alvarsson and Wiens 2010; Pheasant et al. 2010; Biederman and Vessel 2006)
- The visual connection with nature - for instance through abundance of plants and vegetation indoors or view of natural landscapes - lowers blood pressure and heart rate (Brown et al. 2013; van den Berg et al. 2007; Tsunetsugu and Miyazaki 2005).
What are the different types of nature in the space?
Depending on how we perceive it or where it comes from, we can classify nature in the space in the following:
- Visual connection with nature: A view at natural elements, living systems, and natural processes.
- Non-visual connection with nature: Auditory, haptic (touch and proprioception), olfactory (smell), or gustatory (taste) stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
- Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli. Stochastic and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
- Thermal & airflow variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.
- Presence of water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.
- Dynamic & diffuse light. Leverages varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.
- Relationship with Natural Systems Awareness of natural processes, particularly seasonal and temporal changes in a healthy ecosystem.
This time, let's have a look at visual connection with nature in the space more in detail. We will develop the other types of nature in the space in our next articles.
What is visual connection with real nature?
A space with a good visual connection to nature feels complete; it draws attention and can be both stimulating and calming. It can convey information about time, weather, and other living things.
This naturally occurs as a natural flow of a body of water; vegetation, including food bearing plants; animals, insects; terrain, soil, earth...
It can be built or simulated as a mechanical flow of a body of water; a pond or aquarium; a green wall, artwork depicting nature scenes, video depicting nature scenes; or highly designed landscapes
The study of the visual connection with nature in space emerged from research on human's visual preference and responses to views of nature that demonstrated reduced stress, more positive emotional functioning, and improved concentration and recovery rates.
Stress reduction from visual connections with nature has been reported to result in lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as reduced attentional fatigue, sadness, anger, and aggression, as well as improved mental engagement/attentiveness, attitude, and overall happiness.
There is also evidence that both experiencing real nature and viewing images of nature reduce stress. According to research, visual access to biodiversity is more beneficial to our psychological health than physical access to land area (i.e., quantity of land).
What are our most preferred nature views?
According to visual preference research, the preferred view is looking down a slope to a scene with shade trees, flowering plants, calm non-threatening animals, signs of human habitation, and bodies of clean water (Orians & Heerwagen, 1992). This is often difficult to achieve in the built environment, particularly in already dense urban settings, though higher levels of biodiversity are suggested to increase psychological benefits of nature rather than an increase in natural vegetative area (Fuller et al., 2007).
The first five minutes of experiencing nature, such as through exercise in a green space, have been shown to have the greatest impact on mood and self-esteem (Barton & Pretty, 2010).
Viewing nature for ten minutes before a mental stressor has been shown to stimulate heart rate variability and parasympathetic activity (i.e., regulation of internal organs and glands that support digestion and other activities that occur when the body is at rest) (Brown, Barton, & Gladwell, 2013), whereas viewing a forest scene for 20 minutes after a mental stressor has been shown to return cerebral blood flow and brain activity to a relaxed state (Tsunetsugu & Miyazaki, 2005).
What happens to our brains when we see nature?
Viewing scenes of nature stimulates a larger portion of the visual cortex than non-nature scenes, which triggers more pleasure receptors in our brain, leading to prolonged interest and faster stress recovery.
Heart rate recovery from low-level stress, such as working in an office, has been shown to be 1.6 times faster when the space has a glass window with a view of nature, rather than a high-quality simulation (i.e., plasma video) of the same view, or no view at all (Kahn et al., 2008). Furthermore, unlike non-nature, repeated viewing of real nature does not significantly diminish the viewer's level of interest over time (Biederman & Vessel, 2006).
How to introduce more visual connection to nature to your interiors?
The goal of connecting to real nature visually is to create an environment that allows the person to shift focus in order to relax the eye muscles and reduce cognitive fatigue. As the quality of a view and the amount of visible biodiversity increase, so will the effect of an intervention of visual nature.
A view of nature through a glass window has an advantage over a digital screen of the same view (e.g., video/plasma tv), particularly because there is no parallax shift for people as they move toward or around a video screen (Kahn et al., 2008). As three-dimensional videography advances, this may change. Nonetheless, simulated or constructed nature reduces stress significantly more than no visual connection at all.
Design considerations for establishing a strong visual connection with nature
- Real nature should be prioritized over simulated nature, and simulated nature should be prioritized over no nature.
- Place biodiversity above acreage, area, or quantity.
- Exercise opportunities near green space should be prioritized or made available.
- Create a visual connection that can be enjoyed for at least 5-20 minutes per day.
- Design spatial layouts and furnishings to maintain desired view lines while avoiding impeding visual access when seated.
- Visual connections to even small instances of nature can be restorative, which is especially important for temporary interventions or spaces with limited real estate (floor/ground area, wall space).
- The benefits of viewing real nature may be diminished by a digital medium, which may be most useful in spaces that cannot easily incorporate real nature or views to the outdoors due to the nature of their function (e.g., hospital radiation units).
The birch tree and moss garden in the New York Times Building in New York City is an example of a designed environment with an excellent Visual Connection with Nature – a carved out space in the middle of the building through which everyone passes as they enter or leave the building. The birch garden, which is adjacent to a restaurant and the main conference rooms, is an oasis of calm in the midst of Times Square's hustle and bustle.