Color, light, objects and materials can create and develop bonds between humans and places through physical features and symbolized interpretations of that place. The idea of creating a sense of a place within a space in relation between human and natural environment was always challenging for me; How to shift the viewer’s perception about the interior space and interior design elements?
As an interior designer I have experienced working with clients and design companies where their main focus is the extensive use of high-end furniture, wallpaper, and flooring materials where their aim is designing for aesthetic appearances losing sight of what we actually want to have or want to communicate in an interior space.
And for me interior design is much more than that, it is not about filling the space with decorative or impressive pieces to make a space look “beautiful”. It is about communication, psychological interaction and relation to nature, experiences and memories
Designers from different countries interact differently to this issue; some countries, which have experienced rapid development, tend to focus more on the materiality and appearances of a place rather than the feelings and perceptions of people. For example, in my country the UAE, new cities and new places are being built in a very different way from the past. Building materials used to be simple, but well-adapted to local living and climatic circumstances. Each area featured different building characteristics that made it outstanding. Inland houses were made of stone Guss, which is a mixture of mud that was made into bricks, and their roofs were made of palm tree leaves, also from the local environment.
In the coastal areas different materials were used to build. You can see fossilized corals and lime mixtures extracted from seashells, which have the ability to balance summer heat and create a well-ventilated interior space.1 As the economic growth started to increase in the region, the city landscape has shifted to a very modernized architecture and the materials used have no relation to the local environment. You can rarely find an old building except at historical sights.
This is in contrast with the design practices I have observed while studying in Edinburgh. Successful artists and designers tend to spend more time relating their work to the context and specific environment as well as getting exposed to and being inspired by nature.
Nature is not limited to landscapes and natural scenery, which we can perceive through going out of the interior space. It also invites other senses including sounds, smells and textures; we can perceive nature through forces like light, colors, movements and materials.
The relationship between humans and nature went through many different phases in the history of life. There has been always a distance between humans and nature because it was approached as a separated component. The shift to city life and economic growth as mentioned before in the UAE also participated in distancing humans from nature where we tend to dominate nature and profit from it rather than being a part of it and engage with all its living and non-living components.
From my point of view, this relationship should be reconsidered in many different ways through creative practice. For instance, in a way that seeks to incorporate nature within architectural and interior design; and ways that engage people with natural environment and vital life without distancing them from their modern way of living and civilized world.
I believe that it is our responsibility to use our design related capabilities to integrate human and nature and create a suitable and urbanized living environment, bringing back nature in our daily life. This can be approached by creating physical spaces that have specific features derived from nature that contribute to maintaining healthy and productive environments in schools, hospitals and workspaces.
In fact, nature has the power to enhance well-being and the quality of social life. The direct connection between humans and natural light, vegetation and other environmental features has the ability to improve performance and to lower stress. It will also connect the people to their own environment by engaging with local building materials and natural land resources. Hassan Fathy is one of the architects in the Arabian region who has tried to accommodate traditional modes of living in conjunction with being affordable and using building materials from the local environment. He was very successful in creating a strong relationship between architecture and cultural traditions, which was achieved in many of his projects.
“He combined elements from the vernacular urban architecture of Cairo, incorporating into his designs elements such as the malqaf, a wind catcher, the mashrabiya, a wooden lattice screen, the qa’a a cool central room on the upper-storey of traditional houses with high ceilings and natural ventilation, and the salsabil a fountain or basin of water positioned to increase the humidity of the dry desert air.”2
His approach emphasized cultural significance and social responsibility. He also believed that international architecture would demolish their cultural identity.
Going back to nature and interior spaces, Ulrich believes that having natural surroundings promotes well-being and being exposed to natural views or environmental elements improves mental and intellectual functions. It also contributes in healing process from surgery and illness. People who live in spaces that have access to natural elements are more physically active.
“In fact, older, urban residents who have places to walk and access to parks and tree-lined streets live longer. Trees and natural areas may bolster a sense of community by drawing people together and enhancing social connections.”3 ( wells, 2014).
Creating a place has a very complex physical concept. And that lead me to define and explore more about this concept through visiting different landscapes, photography and creating abstraction from natural scenes. Many methods included different mediums and materials such as video projection on different surfaces as well as the use of text.
My first exploration with text was a conceptual representation that involves words and definitions. I was interested in investigating meanings and complexity of natural connections between different cultures, geological and historical contexts, in conjunction with the special characteristics of that place.
The artwork was a typographic illustration of the word “north sea” in three different ways: the ancient definition, the modern definition and the word in all the languages of the countries that are connected to the North Sea. It was presented on a circular concrete sculpture, which encouraged people to move around it(Image 1&2). The work was commissioned for the coastal suburb of Portobello.
The piece explored the relationship between words and their referent, comparing what is already there now and what was there in the past. It emphasizes the importance of ‘Edgelands’ and the historical context. It also explores the wider connections between different cultures and countries that are connected by a natural element, which is the ocean.
Working with text related to historical contexts and cultures led to further explorations in different landscapes and places. I believe that humans as part of nature should be engaged with natural and environmental elements in a more creative way and in a daily basis. That way natural environments have a stronger impact in our daily lives. I seek to create spaces that have special and abstract characteristics that relates to nature in a different way, provoking the viewer to see things differently.
My main focus was on the spatial aspect of the relationship between humans and nature, and how to shift the viewer’s perception of interior space to emphasize a positive psychological impact through an abstracted representation of landscape.
My research in this field had two manifestations. The first, in Tent Gallery was a painted wall piece incorporating texts; the second also used text combined with moving imagery, in a related, projected work in our Cinema Space.
Based on existing research, both works examine the creation of therapeutic spaces, which produce substantial and rapid psychological and physiological restoration from daily life stress. The work in Tent allowed viewers to create their own image through the use of color and poetic texts, exploring and embedded in architectural space. The work is one of a series of projects looking at imbuing architectural space with a sense of the natural.
The other work used gentle, projected imagery mapped onto a suspended fabric, again with a poetic text written on it, in response to direct observation of the landscape. This created a dynamic, immersive space, which further explored the psychological impact of the work on its environment.
Through my practice, I try to formulate what I have seen and experienced in landscape into something that can affect an interior space, creating something visible yet ambiguous. To further expand my explorations in this field, I developed a series of work that reflects textures and patterns through drawing, blind embossing and paint. I tried to extract a representational installation from landscape photography and the text that was created from natural scenery; focusing on some outstanding poetic and descriptive words of the landscape.
Using moving imagery and projection was a successful way in communicating my concept to the viewer, which needed to be developed to a more immersive piece. Enhancing the scale created a more dynamic and interactive experience. The work represents the experience of walking the landscape by using a long ,suspended fabric (9 meters) with a poetic text. The work transformed the space, creating a sense of calm.
- Wells, Nancy, Dr. “Natural Environments and Human Health.” Outreach and Extension (2014): Human.cornell.edu. Cornell University College of Human Ecology, http://www.human.cornell.edu/outreach/upload/CHE_DEA_NaturalEnvironments.pdf