Visual Connection with Nature

A visual Connection with nature is a view to elements of nature, living systems and
natural processes

THE EXPERIENCE

A space with a good visual Connection with nature feels whole, it grabs one’s attention and can be stimulating or calming. It can convey a sense of time, weather and other living things.

ROOTS OF THE PATTERN

The visual Connection with nature pattern has evolved from research on visual preference and responses to views to nature showing reduced stress, more positive emotional functioning, and improved concentration and recovery rates. Stress recovery from visual connections with nature have reportedly been realized through lowered blood pressure and heart rate; reduced attentional fatigue, sadness, anger, and aggression; improved mental engagement/attentiveness, attitude and overall happiness. There is also evidence for stress reduction related to both experiencing real nature and seeing images of nature. visual access to biodiversity is reportedly more beneficial to our psychological health than access to land area (i.e., quantity of land).

Visual preference research indicates that the preferred view is looking down a slope to a scene that includes copses of shade trees, flowering plants, calm non-threatening animals, indications 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 the psychological benefits of nature are suggested to increase with higher levels of biodiversity and not with an increase in natural vegetative area (Fuller et al., 2007). Positive impact on mood and self-esteem has also been shown to occur most significantly in the first five minutes of experiencing nature, such as through exercise within a green space (Barton & Pretty, 2010). viewing nature for ten minutes prior to experiencing a mental stressor has 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), while viewing a forest scene for 20 minutes after a mental stressor has shown to return cerebral blood flow and brain activity to a relaxed state (Tsunetsugu & miyazaki, 2005).

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 recover. For example, heart rate recovery from low-level stress, such as from working in an office environment, has shown to occur 1.6 times faster when the space has a glass window with a nature view, rather than a high-quality simulated (i.e., plasma video) of the same nature view, or no view at all (Kahn et al., 2008). Additionally, repeated viewing of real nature, unlike non-nature, does not significantly diminish the viewer’s level of interest over time

WORKING WITH THE PATTERN

The objective of the visual Connection with nature pattern is to provide an environment that helps the individual shift focus to relax the eye muscles and temper cognitive fatigue. The effect of an intervention will improve as the quality of a view and the amount of visible biodiversity each increases. A view to nature through a glass window provides a benefit over a digital screen (e.g., video/plasma tv) of the same iew, particularly because there is no parallax shift for people as they move toward or around a video screen (Kahn et al., 2008). This may change as three-dimensional videography advances. nevertheless, simulated or constructed nature is measurably better at engendering stress reduction than having no visual connection at all.

Examples:
Naturally occurring
• Natural flow of a body of water
• Vegetation, including food baring plants
• Animals, insects
• Fossils
• Terrain, soil, earth simulated or Constructed
• mechanical flow of a body of water
• Koi pond, aquarium
• Green wall
• Artwork depicting nature scenes
• video depicting nature scenes
• Highly designed landscapes

Design considerations for establishing a strong visual connection with nature:
• Prioritize real nature over simulated nature; and simulated nature
over no nature
• Prioritize biodiversity over acreage, area or quantity
• Prioritize or enable exercise opportunities that are in proximity to
green space
• Design to support a visual connection that can be experienced for
at least 5-20 minutes per day
• Design spatial layouts and furnishings to uphold desired view lines and avoid impeding the visual access when in a seated position
• visual connections to even small instances of nature can be restorative, and particularly relevant for temporary interventions, or spaces where real estate (floor/ground area, wall space) is limited.
• The benefits of viewing real nature may be attenuated by a digital medium, which may be of greatest value to spaces, due to the nature of its function (e.g., hospitals radiation unit) cannot easily incorporate real nature or views to the outdoors

An example of a designed environment with an excellent visual Connection with nature is the birch tree and moss garden in the new York Times Building in new York City – a carved out space in the middle of the building by which everyone passes as they enter or leave the building. Adjacent to a restaurant and the main conference rooms, the birch garden is an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of Times Square.

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