Interior design

connection to a natural exterior will, due to their confining traits, speed up time, contributing to a compressed feeling of unease. On the other hand,

knowledgeable designers can modulate the observer’s subjective assessment of time by creating spaces that provide a visual exit point to the sky.

Remarkably, even illusory skies evoke our past memories of genuine past experiences, triggering a similar psycho- physiological reaction of relaxation. Dr. Jennifer Groh, Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Department of Neurobiology, at the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, USA, found spatial location can be such a powerful trigger for memories that we can use it to recall something that we have been exposed to only once or despite a long intervening delay.2

As humankind’s most universal experience of spatial cognition, the sky embodies and informs our most familiar spatial map. The perceived zenith and horizon line are embedded points of reference that, due to our hardwired habits of perception, are susceptible to biomimicry. Hence, the healing potential of illusory skies and landscapes is a matter of triggering a pre-cognitive or subconscious memory response. Sky Factory’s multisensory virtual skylights use a proprietary design framework called Open Skies Image Technology. This artistic framework depicts open sky imagery using a unique point-of-view that locks in a 90-degree perpendicular angle in relation to the ground, effectively capturing proper gravitational orientation.

By properly accounting for scale and perspective, in addition to embedding 20 or so contextual and structural cues within the photographic montage and around the virtual skylight installation, this visual-spatial technology generates a deeper relaxation response in the physiology of the casual observer. Biophilic illusions of nature are a much more stringent subset of the widely available nature photography, used in healthcare settings, to create a positive distraction for patients. Over the last 40 years, healthcare environments have

been at the forefront of environmental design. Ready access to patient biometrics has enabled healthcare designers and researchers to learn more about the impact of environmental attributes on individual healing and wellbeing. Roger S. Ulrich’s 1984 landmark study View through a window may influence recovery from surgery is not only the most cited study in environmental design, it could be argued that it single- handedly propelled the field of the evidence-based design.3

In the

intervening decades since its publication, its findings have stimulated more research about the therapeutic effects of a window view to nature.

Ulrich’s study documented patients recovering from gall bladder surgery, who were assigned to rooms with a window view of a natural setting, had shorter postoperative hospital stays, took less potent analgesics, and received fewer negative evaluative comments from the nursing staff. In comparison, patients assigned to recover in a room with a window view of the adjacent building, featuring a brick wall, did not fare as well in any of these categories. Ulrich’s astute observation illuminated the powerful role that environmental context plays in healing.

In the intervening years since Ulrich’s seminal study, other researchers have followed up with studies that compared simulated views of nature seen from

The healing potential of illusory skies and landscapes is a matter of triggering a pre-cognitive or subconscious memory response


television screens or back-lit photography. However, this research focused exclusively on visual content, whether the monitor received a live feed from a nearby view or a photograph depicted an idyllic scene.

One aspect of these installations that was universally overlooked was the environmental context; that is, the structural or contextual cues surrounding the visual content. Environmental context is one of the key design elements of a simulated architectural feature that separates one- dimensional, symbolic visual content from multisensory illusions of nature. However, to understand how the neurobiology of human perception works, it is important to first review the significant interdependencies between, firstly, how we form a sense of place from our surroundings, secondly, how we form and retrieve memories, and, thirdly, how our emotions regulate our immune response.

Biochemistry of healing

One of the most important discoveries in the last decade has been the role environments play in triggering memories that consequently release a cascade of emotions. Hence, our emotional demeanour plays a significant role in activating or suppressing immune function. By emotions, we do not mean a subjective mental state but a traceable biochemical and neurological chain reaction triggered by the sensory stimuli in our surroundings.

In other words, if our surroundings signal a comforting sense of place the environment enhances our emotional state and our immune system is primed. On the other hand, interior spaces that signal isolation or stand out for their lack of complex and harmonious sensory • May 2020

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