Archive for ‘green design’

May 5, 2012

On Beauty, Ethics and the Nature – The Story of Tree Shape Preferences

When it comes to aesthetic preferences, I like to remember an older colleague’s explanation of why his wife’s eyes are beautiful – not because they fit some common criteria of what is considered a beautiful shape, size, or color, but simply because they’re hers.  He loves her, he loves her eyes. Many memories are kept in those eyes. He watches them smile, cry, get angry, getting old, and sees the value and beauty in them.

Is this a beauty pageant?; Lime Tree Avenue, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire; photo by Lincolnian (Brian)

There are some things we consider beautiful (or at least want to) per se, just because. All the things and people we love could be included here, and everything we think of as valuable. Just writing about how some trees are prefered over others because of their appearance seems somewhat unfair.

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February 7, 2012

On the Savanna Hypothesis in the Environmental Psychology

Interesting fact No.1: Genome-wise, modern humans are very closely related. Any two modern humans, from anywhere on the globe, possess greater genetic similarity than do any two chimpanzees; even those selected from neighbouring groups in Africa (Davies, 2001; Ridley, 2000; Wells, 2002; according to Falk and Balling 2010).

African savanna during an unusually wet period; photo by Martin_Heigan

Interesting fact No.2: A broad survey  of art preferences (Wypijewski 1997, according to Dutton, 2003) of people living in ten countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas found “an odd cross-cultural uniformity” – respondents in all countries expressed a liking for realistic representative paintings including water, trees and other plants, human beings, and animals, especially large mammals. Two artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who hired professionals to conduct this survey in the first place, produced a favourite painting for each country using the statistical preferences as a guide.  The paintings turned out to be very similar — they all looked like ordinary European landscape calendar art. An influential art critic Arthur Danto claimed that this findings demonstrate the power of the international calendar industry to influence taste away from indigenous values and towards European conventions. Was Danto right?

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June 7, 2011

Landscape Preferences and Water Consumption Issues in the Desert

When it comes to landscaping preferences, we seem to have a thing for the exotic – trying to grow a Mediterranean garden in a wet oceanic climate, a big green lawn in a desert climate and tropical plants in a continental climate. While I don’ think there’s anything wrong with being inspired by things that come from afar, there’s no reason to belive that they fit our surroundings better that anything native. And while globalisation has come so far that there’s no special maintainance issue whether you choose either American, European or Japanese car, maintaining non-native landscapes can cause further problems.

Red Box; photo by Jeremy Levine Design

One of the most important aspects of environmental psychology is investigating and promoting environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviour, so the following research deals with that issue. Aiming to identify ways to reduce outdoor residential water use in the desert area of the southwestern United States, Yabiku and colleagues (2008) examined landscape preferences and some factors associated with them.

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May 29, 2011

Playgrounds – City Oases for Children

In a paper titled “Is there a place for children in a city?” Arza Churchman (2003) asks the following question: Does the city, through its design and planning, and through the attitudes and behaviour of adults, transmit the message to the children that they are welcome, that they are an equal part of the society in the city? Just think of all the limitations children are faced with due to (reasonable!) safety concerns of their parents, limitations that become more and more constraining with each new generation. With significantly less privacy and freedom then before,  constantly supervised by adults (unless they’re “babysat” by TV of PC), the children of today may be receiving the message that the environment we’ve created is not a friendly place for them.

photo by guilmay

There are little oases amid the noisy confusion of life though, that celebrate children’s most important activity – play. It has been stated that independent and diverse play and exploration is important to children’s development, specifically their motor skills and physical health, cognitive development, social relationships with peers  and formations of connections with the natural world (Kyttä, 2004).

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May 1, 2011

How Water Features Enrich Cities

Break the monotony of straight lines, smooth surfaces and neutral colors of an urban environment with a simple fountain or a pond, and you’ll see a big change in people’s behaviour. Ignoring other aspects of their environment that stress the importance of order, rules, organization and schedule, people instantly become playful and spontaneous. Water tempts us to stop and look at it, touch it, throw stones in it.. and be a kid for a moment.

Courtyard of Somerset House, London; photo by Marxpix

While we all know that aquatic environments are appealing to us, the study by White et al. (2010) answers the question how appealing they are compared to natural and built non-aquatic environments, and probably more important – how can water in built environments improve urban experience?

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April 21, 2011

Are Natural Scenes Aways Preferred over Urban Scenes? Considering City Skylines at Night

Studies have consistently found that people prefer natural environments over urban environments, and they do so with a good reason – experience of nature can better provide physiological, emotional and attentional restoration than urban surroundings (according to Hartig et al., 2003). However, there must be some city-lovers out there who wonder if there are some conditions on which urban settings can be just as likable as scenes of nature, or even more.

Sleepless in Seattle; photo by James Marvin Phelps

Folloving the logic of an undeniable city-lover Woddy Allen, who used Manhattan skyline at night as an exciting and romantic setting for his movies, Nasar and Terzano (2010) wondered if city skylines after dark would upset the consistent pattern of preference for natural scenes over urban ones.

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April 6, 2011

The Presence of Indoor Plants May Increase Pain Tolerance

Research in environmental psychology often fascinate me by showing how very sensitive we are.  Just by changing some minor details in a room researchers are able to make measurable impacts on our psyche. I think that Alain de Botton (in The Architecture of Happiness) described it best by calling us vulnerable to design. And when are we more vulnerable than when we are in pain?

Would something this small have an impact on you?; photo by AmySelleck

Following studies were inspired by well-known research in which hospital patients who viewed plants from their windows recovered more quickly and used fewer pain reliving drugs than patients who viewed a building (Urlich, 1984; for more about the impact of a window view see Attention Restoration and Views of Nature). Lohr and Pearson-Mims (2000) purposed that indoor plants could have the similar pain relieving effect like window views of nature.

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February 27, 2011

Gazing Through the Window – Attention Restoration and Views of Nature

While studying for exams as a student, I would often catch myself gazing through the window and loosing track of time, completely unaware of piles of books in front of me. Does that sound familiar? You’ll be happy to learn it’s not called being lazy, but restoring attention (a term which gives an impression of actually doing something, instead of doing nothing). According to attention restoration theory (Kaplan & Kaplan 1989, according to Kaplan, 2004), focusing attention for long periods of time causes mental fatigue, so we shift to spontaneous and undirected attention and immerse in a different unthreatening “place”, giving time for directed attention to renew itself.

University Library in Utercht, the Netherlands; photo by.Storm

Restorative experiences are more likely to occur in interesting settings that bring about effortless attention and involve being away, seeing into the distance, and satisfaction. Vacation would be an example of a great restorative experience, but on a daily basis we may settle for their minimized versions – window views.  We’ve already noticed that they draw our involuntary attention, right? They also give us a feeling of mentally going away (being “absent-minded”), enable us to see into the distance (at least most of them do), and we usually experience more satisfaction in what we see outside then in anything that’s on our desk. However, not all window views are the same and most of us (even architecture lovers) choose views of nature over views of buildings. Does that mean that views of nature provide better restoration for our overstressed minds?

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