Oct 10, 201301:00 PMPoint of View
Nature, Art, and Beauty: Antidotes to Everyday Traumas
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Svigals + Partners. Fairfield University Dorms
Courtesy Robert Benson
A seminal study considered the “cultural preferences for figurative art in the healthcare environment” was highlighted by Kathy Hathorn, MA and Upali Nanda, Ph.D., in their position paper for The Center for Health Design's Environmental Standards Council in 2001. The use of art in general has been widely shown to positively affect “patient perception of care and overall satisfaction.” The same study showed that regardless of such factors as race, “patient responses to figurative art depicting caring faces and positive body language were the same.” The groups studied also uniformly preferred representational paintings related to nature and natural landscapes, gardens, and flowers.
As with plantings and water features, imagery of nature and figurative art can contribute to restoration from directed attention, a stress-relieving activity in itself, as described in attention-restoration theory. It can make us think about being in a different place, and it can hold our attention and fascinate us. It can also create a “sense of extent” – such as being connected to the larger world – as well as the compatibility or resonance we experience between natural settings and human inclinations.
Though these may be documented benefits in caregiver settings, this kind of restoration can be useful at any time of stress. Where the art is integral to the building or space, it actively contributes to the nourishment that architectural and landscape environments can provide.
Svigals + Partners. Connecticut Center for the Arts and Technology
Courtesy Robert Benson
Get yourself together
Healing through biophilia and figurative art brings back together the disparate parts of ourselves, parts that become fractured by the stresses of modern-day life. We often use the phrase, “I’m not all together” or “I need to get myself together.” Art can be part of this gathering back together, of healing, and our healthcare designs must speak to that.
Healing for modern life is our starting point. And the green building ideals -- access to daylight, fresh air, and nontoxic materials, and the like -- are easy to provide. They give us protection, security, and comfort and, from the outset, a specific and valuable connection to nature, of which we are a part. They help reconnect us to the earth and to the cycles of days and seasons. That’s what makes us human, and the reinforcement of those relationships is an essential part of that healing we all need.
Figurative artwork and ornament remind us of our own humanity. The representational art we have used in our building projects has helped to bring to life the things we know and have learned – and bring them to life in a ways that is not simply expletive (as in reading a text) but that is also expressive. It touches more of the self than the work itself. It appears tha it’s not just the work of the building but also the expression of the building that is enlivening.
As Confucius said, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.” Figurative work in architecture invites that involvement, on as many levels as we can provide it. And it involves us by healing our physical and spiritual wounds, too.
Barry Svigals, FAIA, is a Connecticut-based architect, higher-education advisor, artist and collaborator. He is widely cited and recently co-authored the book Collaboration.