Can incorporating the experience of landscape in architecture make you happier, healthier, and even wealthier?

By Wesley Kean, Principal, KoDA

Human Evolution

As humans, we are the only animals on earth, other than corals, that can alter our environment to suit our own convenience in a way that can actually alter the course of our own evolution. Over 5 million years ago we derived from chimpanzees. Over the next 2 million years we started walking on two feet, discovered fire, and shortly thereafter, stone tools. Of the 200 thousand years homo sapiens have been on earth, organized architecture has only existed within the last 7000 years, the earliest examples being the Pyramids in Egypt. Over the last 200 years industrialization's occurrence has shown the most significant impact on not only architecture, but evolution in general. We have yet to see the resulting impact of our architecture on our modern human evolution, but what is clear is our departure from nature. Therefore, as architects and urban planners, we have a very important responsibility to reconnect the public, and those who inhabit our buildings, with the natural environment.

Political Map of the World, 2011

Political Map of the World, 2011

There are 4 main climactic zones- Tropic, Sub-tropic, Temperate and Polar. We live in the most desirable of the climates, the sub-tropical region, where the sun shines throughout the year, and the landscape is lush. Unfortunately, society today has evolved into an introverted way of life- technology and social media serve as distractions from experiencing the world around us. A few interesting statistics show just how withdrawn we have become from our natural surroundings:

  • The average person spends 11 hours a day with electronic media, 70% of waking lives
  • Humans sleep an average of 8 hours every night. 25 years of our lives are spent sleeping, and not interacting with our natural environment.
  • About 90% of our lives are spent indoors. 85% of that is in the office or home, 5% stuck in traffic
  • People view the "American Dream" has many different things: 78% believe that it’s about personal freedom, small 23% believe it’s about achieving affluence, but over half of the people surveyed believe it’s being in harmony with nature.

Here are a few points as to why we should be reconnected with nature:

  • Getting outside makes you healthier and happier
  • Studies show students require recess as a way to stimulate the creative area of the brain.
  • Nature has a direct relation to wealth- GIS maps of wealth in major cities compared with maps of canopy coverage showed an almost identical graphic. The wealthiest part of major cities were in close proximity to parks such as Central Park in New York City and Millennium Park in Chicago.

By integrating the importance and positive effect of nature into our design work, we can provide a connection to the world around us that is more than just a window to the outside. Architects, urban planners, and designers alike have a responsibility to blur the boundary between indoor and outdoor environments to reestablish the relationship between humans and nature. 

For more on this topic, watch our Poltrona Frau Discussion on the intrinsic relationship between nature and architecture.