While following the trend of ‘fast-living’, we have closed our senses to particular areas of living. The environment happens to be one of them. We tend to overlook the beauty and healing potential of the natural and man-made landscape. We conceive landscape into monotonous categories, generally subjective and individual. However, the landscape is not only the lawns, play areas, or backyards of our bungalows or societies but also the neighborhood gardens, open spaces, wilderness, seating provisions on the roadside, and water bodies across the trail. All this affects us physically and psychologically.
The psychological impacts landscape commands on us is beyond our knowledge and cognition. It is bidirectional, i.e the emotional state affects the way one perceives the landscape and, the nature/ structure of landscape also affects the emotion of the being. We can call it the ‘man-environment’ relationship. People perceive the environment by gathering information through sensory organs (Eg: Touch, visuals, hearing, olfactory, and smell).
So to understand the psychological impacts of the landscape, we have to learn how our senses are impacted by it.
Currently, we are surrounded by the contemporary landscape in cities and urban sprawl which hardly gives us room to think/ understand our emotions or formulate them. However, the aroma of materials/ plants, the moisture level, bright or dark intensity, temperature of the surroundings, all add up to the greater experience of impacting our psyche, either negatively or positively. Often the emotions aren’t categorized as black and white, but grey as well. To condense it down, negative, positive, and sublime experiential qualities of landscape formulate our psychology.
Positive impacts can be seen and experienced in day to day life as we pass by a garden, bunch of trees, shaded road, or balcony garden. The color psychology also comes into the frame here. As green color/ cool colors, in general, help us reduce stress, they also provide us with peace of mind. In online studies, it is seen that ghetto renewal programs incorporating planting activities and gardening, tend to have a better lifestyle than fellow ones who don’t. Such activities generally seem to upgrade a psychological state of life and living midst the state of degradation. The benefits of vegetation can be the provision of sensory diversity, reduction in vandalism, increasing the ecological value of the neighborhood, conserving energy sources for the future and, increasing safety and relaxation spaces.
Apart from the vegetation, areas with small water bodies, streams, fountains attract the attention of viewers and they seem to stroll or spend a considerable amount of time by it. Water soothes the sight and the fluid nature and sound induces hope and inspiration to move on and adapt. The tactility of water bodies is a healing phenomenon.
As we do not consider landscape only through softscape but built factors in and around it as well, hardscape plays a pivotal role in this process. The materials and complexity of such amenities and their locations can help us evaluate a better understanding of environmental psychology on users.
For eg, in the garden area, parents would like to have seating arrangements that provide an unobstructed view of the play area. In case, this isn’t satisfied, the stress level amongst parents increases, inducing a sense of disconnectedness and isolation and vulnerability.
Dense forests, overloaded vegetation, stagnant streams/ water channels, insufficient light ventilation, dull and dry vegetation are all other aspects of landscape affecting our psyche negatively. All these above-mentioned factors can be explanations of why some of our neighborhood open landscapes are now sprawling wilderness. Such environments jeopardize our sense of security and pleasure. Excessive stress can misdirect us or we may tend to lose directional understanding. Polluted or stagnant water streams are hotspots of mosquito breeding and house to insects and other diseases. Insufficient light ventilation obscures our visual sensing. Varied aromas of flowering plants or other elements can also result in hallucinations experiences or harming our olfactory receptors. Excessive of anything is dangerous. Similarly, dry vegetation makes the place inanimate, psychologically, and physiologically unfit to be in.
Imagine, being on a hill of about 6000ft altitude with an enriched and unmediated view of the landscape below. Positivity and negativity aren’t what one would feel but the sublime nature! Sublime can be defined as a mixed feeling of fear, pleasure, and awe. This seemed to induce strong positive feelings or ‘thrilled’. There is a huge scope for further studies in this aspect that needs to be explored.
From all the above examples, we can conclude about the varied nature and impacts certain types of landscapes can have on our minds. These can be ephemeral or long-lasting. Though most of our experiences are subjective, there is a common ground to all the tangible and intangible assets which induce this sense.
Let’s hope to keep this awareness in mind while designing the landscape for peace and pleasure and to garnish some thrill, a little fear hasn’t harmed anybody!