Interiorscaping: Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

WE ARE BORED in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun.

Ivan Chtcheglov, aka Gilles Ivain, penned the preceding  statement  in 1953 in his work In Formulary For A New Urbanism. Ctcheglov had been a lettrist, the French equivalent of the Beat in the USA. It is the Lettrists who are given credit for the creation of the term Psychogeography, a term many in the Interiorscape and allied professions are becoming familiar with in the context of biophilia and urban design. Psychogeography refers to the effects of the geographic environment, whether intentional or not, on the mood and emotions of individuals. The Bauhaus movement was embraced by the Lettrists and has left an enduring mark on the North American psyche; we all owe the omnipresence of glass curtain walls and psiloti (columns that support a structure above ground level, allowing for light penetration, courtyards and atria) to this movement. Their interests and aspirations, in part, stemmed from personal observations and lessons learned from Baudelaire’s musings of Baron Haussman’s Paris renovations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, at that point still a living memory for many Parisians. It was also Ctcheglov’s  belief that:

Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams.

Presently, in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, we have never been more keenly aware of the emergent aspects of urban existence. As more and more people relocate to urban environments, planning, design, and development must keep pace. At the University of Waterloo, the Urban Realities Lab, led by the cognitive neuroscientist  Colin Ellard, is investigating the mechanics of psychogeography.  Essentially, Ellard is seeking to gain insight into the biological origins of human nature as they pertain to our mental relationship with physical space. In his work, subjects are exposed to a variety of experimental treatments with various environmental features while attached to monitoring devices such as EEG, skin conductance (polygraph), heart rate monitors, eye movement recorders and blood pressure monitoring. Subjects are further assessed through intensive interviews.

Building on Roger Ulrich’s seminal work illustrating enhanced post-op recovery outcomes for hospital patients, reported by some as  “ A Room With A view”, Ellard’s work clearly demonstrates the restorative effects of exposure to natural features such as vegetation, wildlife, water, air movement and geometry, colour and light. His work is among a growing body of information intended to be used for evidence based architectural design with obvious implications for public health. In a very real sense, Ellard is attempting to put a pin into what many believe to be the defining  characteristic of humanity: the fact that we build things; we build them to record and/or change perceptions and to influence thoughts and emotions; by these means we attempt to organize human action and control behavior. Importantly, this is presented as an adaptive behavior, related to habitat selection and in the light of Appleton’s Prospect-Refuge theory, Heerwagen and Orian’s  Savanna Theory, Francine Kuo and William Sullivan’s work in inner city areas with varying degrees of vegetation and the work of many others.

In The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective, Doctors Stephen and Rachel Kaplan describe what they refer to as the Attention Restoration Theory. Essentially, the “hard Ambiance” components of the urban landscape require an intense sensory scrutiny of small details, measured by eye movement and marked by repeated periods of intense fixation whereas natural settings produce an entirely different pattern absent of fixation. Poorly designed urban landscapes and structures lead to cognitive fatigue, the latter promote a restorative effect.

Emotions, mood and the ability to think are affected positively by exposure to nature, this is a demonstrable fact. The origins of this response may be related to evolutionary factors no longer relevant to habitat selection but still important in relation to behavioral adaptation and fitness. In terms of livability in the 21st century urban environment an understanding of evolutionary adaptive behavior and an ability to design public space accordingly hold the promise of enhanced public health and improvements in virtually all aspects of society.

If it were your choice, your last chance, with no turning back, would you seek the truth of the red pill, or the fabricated reality of the blue pill?

The developing cannon of evidence in support of greening the urban landscape may seem to be a godsend for the interiorscaping and allied industries and the natural environment generally, however, developments in research also include a rather disturbing potential outcome. Ellard and others have demonstrated similar restorative effects achieved through the generation of virtual natural environments and features. Specifically, modulated reality in the form of digital audio and imagery presented in a format similar to Google Glass technology that may be capable of producing a similar and sustainable positive outcome.

MorpheusIf an image of the most disturbing scene in the motion picture The Matrix materialized in your mind, you are not alone. Recall the choice of perspective given to the protagonist Neo by Morpheus regarding his involuntary servitude to the Matrix: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends,  you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more”.

Cognitive research work by Deltcho Valtchanov has been developed by building on the fractal dimension work of Mandelbrot and the subsequent discovery by others that most scenes in nature have a fractal dimension in the range of 1.3 to 1.5. Think of a fractal like a fern frond, a repeating cascade of pattern or contour. Not surprisingly, it has been demonstrated that most people prefer to look upon things with the same fractal dimension range. Valtchanov has refined his testing by utilizing known aspects of neural pathways related to processing spatial frequency  information, the parahippocampal place area (PPA) in particular. It appears, the PPA is tuned to these spatial frequencies and may be the chemo-motive force behind biological mechanisms related to habitat selection. He has also demonstrated that sensory information that can consistently stimulate the desirable response need not be natural and in fact can be an abstraction of shapes and contours as long as they conform to the general spatial distribution model. As it turns out, this area of the brain is unusually dense with neurochemical (opiate)receptors ; a tell tale sign of the brains reward pathway, responsible for general feelings of well being, happiness, and satiation.


“Matrix Pill” via 2 TOP
Featured image “Watershed Forest” by Nicholas A. Tonelli

Chris is a plant biologist and forester who has dedicated over two decades to plant ecology research in addition to acquiring almost 20 years of experience in the garden center and florist sector. He graduated from Trent University with an Honours degree in plant biology and from Sir Sandford Flemming College with a diploma in Forestry. As an ecologist, Chris has been involved in many projects, large and small, from government directed natural resource management audits and climate change research with carbon sequestration in permafrost peatlands to natural vegetation restoration following disturbance. As an garden center and florist business owner in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, he has born witness to the tremendous change that has occurred in the horticulture industry over the past twenty years.

NewPro Containers

Join the Community