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Through these unprecedented times, we have a unique situation in our lives where our spaces and our social lives are as inactive as ever. The interactions with landscape and the spaces in between buildings isn’t a new conversation by all means. However it’s felt around the world now more than ever during the COVID-19 lockdown just how important these spaces are. Not just as a means to experience natural environments, but also the link that connects us as people, in our everyday lives.

Connecting with Design

The immediate question is how does Urban Design influence our health? A social experiment carried out by Charles Montgomery [1]. Which conducted various experiments where people were put into natural environments and social situations, and each time these situations resulted in positive results to mental health.

For example, one of the scenarios was two people being exposed to two certain conditions. One was set into a typical urban setting of traffic and concrete buildings. The other was set in a more natural landscape listening to sounds of nature. It found out that those more immersed in nature were more likely to donate to charity after the test, indicating a raise in mood by being in a more natural environment. [1]

[1] (www.academyofurbanism.org.uk 2015)

Further in his findings, it all came down too social connections, a major part in how a community feels about the place that it’s in is the connections to each other. And to respond to this, Urban Design should lead people into having healthier lives and relationships, and the key to this is developing social connections. [2]

[2] (https://thehappycity.com/ 2013)

Conclusion

Design that is natural and brings people together, is the way to a happier life. This is further backed up by Jen Gehl, [3] who found that people tend to ignore and even walk faster in front of blank, modern facades. As appose to natural frontages, where people will be more likely to stop and take a moment to be in the space.

Design has this effect on people, whether conscious or sub-conscious, but it’s clear that our sense of place lands an impact on our emotions and actions. Hence, why lockdown can be a very challenging time, without the spaces to connect us, and the people to meet us there, it’s clear to see the implications to mental health that is caused when these spaces are taken away.

[3] (worldlandscapearchitect.com 2013)


References:

[1] Montgomery, C., (2013). The Happy City experiment (online). https://thehappycity.com/project/the-happy-city-experiment/ Accessed: 19/05/2020

[2] Montgomery, C., (2013). Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design: Penguin.

[3] Gehl. J., (1971) Life Between Buildings: Island Press; 6th edition (31 Mar. 2011)

[4] Ford. L., (2000) The Spaces between Buildings: Johns Hopkins University Press

[5] Lynch, K., (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge: The Technology Press & Harvard University Press.

Figure list

[1] Academy of Urbanism (2015) Journal / Happy City (online) https://www.academyofurbanism.org.uk/journal-happy-city/ Accessed: 19/05/2020

[2]  Montgomery, C., (2013). The Happy City experiment (online). https://thehappycity.com/project/the-happy-city-experiment/ Accessed: 19/05/2020

[3] World Landscape Architect (2013) Reimagining Kensington Street in Sydney (online) https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/reimagining-kensington-street-in-sydney/#.XsfaAWhKiUm Accessed: 20/05/2020

[4] The Conversation (2020) Social isolation linked to higher levels of inflammation – new study (online) https://theconversation.com/social-isolation-linked-to-higher-levels-of-inflammation-new-study-132564 Accessed: 21/05/2020

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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