Wellness Walls: A Look at Leaves and their Long-lasting Allure

GreenBuild1Last week’s GreenBuild/ ABX2017Expo in Boston boasted a mind-boggling 550+ exhibitors and 75+ product categories focused on sustainable building—from insulation to solar panels. As the escalator descended to the 12-acre exhibit space, I felt that Robin Williams’ Moscow on Hudson moment—completely overwhelmed by too many choices. So I dodged the crowds, blew past the booths, ditched the demonstrations. and tipped-toed past the tiny houses in favor of plants. Walls and walls of green plants. They drew me in.

GreenBuild2In an Expo Hall overflowing with people and products, I sought out the green at GreenBuild. E.O. Wilson, the famed biologist, might understand. In 1984, he proposed the biophilia hypothesis that suggests humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. More recent research links the health and wellness benefits of green plants to increased productivity in the workplace, a happier workforce and increased memory retention.

I hung out in GreenBuild3the greenery for a while and visited a handful of vendors who touted the health benefits of vertical green walls. First stop: Nedlaw Living Walls where their biofiltration technology uses a hydroponic system to remove pollutants from a building’s air and return cleansed air while bringing nature into the workplace to improve employee well-being.

GreenBuild4Next came Naava whose “smart green walls” offer air purification technology in a soilless system that is monitored by sensors and artificial intelligence. The company’s goal is to create “healthier, happier, and more inspiring workplaces” with a fully-automated combination product—air purifier, humidifier and living plant wall—all in one.”

Ambius promotes standalone vertical or wall-mounted, hydroponic gardens called SageWallsä and mosaic-like systems called Sage Biotilesä that can support perennials, ground covers, annuals, vines and tropical foliage in any design configuration. Their walls improve air quality and beautify the workplace while boosting employee morale.

GreenBuild5The focus of CityScapes is to enhance the built “environment through biophilic design and the power of plants.” They claim the benefits of living walls include air filtration and pollution removal as well as stress reduction. Loved the fact their conference swag included an air plant in a tiny, round copper wire cage.

Suite Plants had my number: an easy-to-maintain modular green wall that can be mounted as easily as a photo on a wall, configured to any size and required no electricity or water pumps. The possibility of an easy-to-install small green wall in my home office appealed to my DIY nature.

If green walls can remove conference stress, imagine what they could do for an office, school, hospital or the building you’re in right now?

Turns out our man-made architecture works best when non-built features abound. At the end of the day, no matter the architect, it’s Mother Nature’s work we crave–as the experience of a 12-acre (4.8 hectare) exhibit space made clear.

Imagine the impact in a smaller venue–like my home office!

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(All photos by Janice M. Ward at GreenBuild 2017 in Boston.)

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What Makes a Place Walkable? Turns out not just sidewalks.

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What makes a place walkable? Turns out it’s not just sidewalks. ‘Fixation points’ that stimulate the eye to look in a direction or at a specific place, matter too.

With eye-tracking tools, you can start to deconstruct the hidden process behind walkability, looking at how how we ‘fixate’ without conscious control, and then move our attention and/or our bodies towards the place in question. We can track the visual sequence our brain gets our eyes to follow as they look at something, as shown in the streetscape above, (at right).

This is Chance Street, a new neighborhood in Devens, central Massachusetts, designed to promote community and rehabilitate a former military base. Working with a team at Tufts, we eye tracked the new development using an off-the-shelf emulation product, 3M’s Visual Attention Software (VAS). The central image which it created shows a ‘heat map’ that glows brightest where people likely look most within the first 5 seconds taking in this scene (during ‘pre-attentive’ processing). The image at right above, shows the path eyes  likely follow within that timeframe. The fixation sequence shown here, 1 through 4, goes straight down the street, suggesting both the building layout and architecture promote walkability as intended – even before our conscious brain can get into the act.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 12.03.05 AMEye-tracking data can also be compiled into ‘regions’, where outlined areas in red (in image at left) indicate a high probability of garnering viewing attention (74% – 98%), in yellow, a medium probability (58% – 63%). Areas with no outline will most likely be ignored.

So, here again, you can see that even if you’ve never been to Devens, you’ll have a pretty easy time navigating along Chance Street.

The biometric testing suggests that not all areas of the new development invite walkability to the same extent, however. For instance, the parking alley behind Chance Street, lined with free-standing garages, would prove much more daunting for the newcomer who would be less likely to even consider ambling along it. Why?

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 11.20.59 AM The images above show how the brain directs the eyes to take in the central area of the scene but provides no clear path of fixation points down the roadway – so nowhere to go from the unconscious brain’s perspective; and because unconscious processing directs conscious behavior, this is not going to be a popular pedestrian byway – ever. But come to think of it, that may be exactly what the developer and residents want: a street out front with people and one behind – for privacy’s sake – without them.

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Thanks to Prof Justin B Hollander, of Tufts, Hanna Carr, Tufts, ’20, for assistance with research and the Devens Enterprise Commission for supporting it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Want to Learn about the Brain? Eye Track an Apple Ad

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If you want to learn how your brain works, in particular how it takes in visual stimuli, look at an Apple ad.

The tech giant, listed as the world’s 9th largest company, with a current valuation of some $800 billion, has introduced revolutionary products since the ’70s. Less celebrated is how its success is rooted in computer science and consistently, dare we say it, reverential respect for and application of neuroscience. Apple studies the human brain, and more than any other tech company we know, designs its products to fit our hidden proclivities, particularly the innate animal ones we may not realize we have.

Above is a recent iPad ad that caught my eye; I don’t own an iPad and am not interested in doing so, yet the ad drew me in. How? We decided to eye track it with off-the-shelf software that tracks pre-attentive processing, or the first 3 to 5 seconds you look at something – that’s well before your conscious brain can get into the act.

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Ah-hah! We found-out fast that the iPad ad masterfully manipulates our pre-attentive algorithms, feeding the brain just what it’s built to see, in the way that’s easiest for it to take in.  Above is a ‘heat map’ which glows brightest where we look most, fading to blue and then grey in areas ignored. We see how the colorful contrasting ‘dots’ (perhaps they’re stars or planets) on the iPad screen in the original ad are far from randomly selected: they hook us magnetically, then our attention shifts to the text and then back again to the new product’s screen. The predicted visual sequence within the first-5-seconds is diagrammed below, starting first in the area of pinkish dots  and then, appropriately enough, ending right back there. Of course the dots’ reddish hue is far from randomly selected since our eyes go straight for that color, in particular favoring red-green contrasts which the ad – surprise! – also provides. Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 12.05.52 PM

Eye-tracking studies outline regions of an image to summarize where attention will likely fall. And the diagram below statistically quantifies why this ad’s a keeper: some 88% of viewers are predicted to focus directly on the new product screen, with 79% taking in the product name. Not bad, considering all this likely happens without a word of instruction from the vendor within 5 seconds.Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.57.53 AMApple, of course. sees its business as knowing people well, better than they know themselves. Steve Jobs was not at all secretive about the corporate approach either. “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have,” he would say.

It’s just that most people never quite understood what he meant; he was talking about hidden processes that direct their lives and that they didn’t and still don’t know are there.

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‘The Mental Disorders that Gave Us Modern Architecture’ from CommonEdge.org

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Click on images above to read this recent post on CommonEdge.org, a non-profit site dedicated to improving the design of our built environment.

The piece is co-authored by Ann Sussman and Katie Chen. Ann also co-authors this GoD (GeneticsofDesign) blog with Janice Ward. And as co-bloggers, Sussman+Ward have agreed to disagree on this article’s contents and conclusions. That’s a first for them, and we’ll give more feedback and expand the discussion—as interest arises.

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Building Places Nobody Wants to Be

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 9.25.25 PMHere’s a question. In the photos above of two urban arcades, which one would you rather be in?

The image at left or the one at right? Don’t think too much – just choose!

In the last 24 months, I’ve had the chance to pose that same question to more than 1000 people while giving talks around the country.

And both the responses and response rates astonish. Quickly, without collaboration, everyone picks the image at right: the arcade in central Paris along the Rue de Rivoli, designed by Napoleon’s architects more than two centuries ago. (My hunch is you’d pick that too.) No one wants to be in the covered walkway in central Boston, built as part of a city court house about twenty years ago.

Here’s another preference test:

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 9.24.47 PMWhich street would you rather walk down? Both form part of historic centers, the one on the left in Brooklyn, NYC, the other, at right, in Ontario, Canada?

I’ve shown this slide to more than 500 people. And again both responses and response rates astonish. Quickly, without collaboration, everyone picks the image at right: Market Street in the colonial port city of Kingston, Ontario. Given the choice, nobody wants to walk past recently refurbished Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York, an educational venue surrounding 19th-century historic homes.

How can this be? How do 500 or 1000 people so quickly make a decision about where to go, and all end up in the same place – without even speaking with each other?

The simple answer is our primate brains, hardwired to keep us safe, continuously and unconsciously scan the environment for survival. The images chosen instantly feed the brain the stimuli needed to feel secure; the ones rejected don’t. Rue de Rivoli and Market Street give our brain what’s needed to move forward feeling at our best. The Boston Courthouse and Heritage Center in Brooklyn can’t.

Of course how our brains select stimuli without conscious input is a larger question as is what our brains are preset to look for (some of this taken up elsewhere in this blog). Biometric studies add insight here; below is an eye-tracked version of the above street scenes created with 3M’s Visual Attention Software which indicates what gets people’s attention in pre-attentive processing (the first 3-5 seconds) taking in a scene.

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 7.56.39 PM The ‘heat maps’ above glow brightest where people look most fading to black in areas ignored. The results suggest one reason the Brooklyn streetscape isn’t favored is our unconscious brain won’t let us look at it. And that’s huge because unconscious brain activity always lays the foundation for conscious behavior. It guides it. We can’t move towards a place our pre-attentive processing has determined is to be ignored.

There are larger takeaways too, and here’s a key one: to build a sustainable future we need to build places people want to be, not places they don’t.

And this means we need to perennially pose one salient question: are we making places people will want to be – or not?

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Seeing Red

I see a red door and I want it painted black
– Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

red-doorAside from the Rolling Stones desire to “Paint it Black,” most people are attracted to red doors. Not only is red a look-at-me color, red doors are important culturally, historically and, now, scientifically.

Both the Red Door Spa and Talbot’s clothing chains use red doors as icons to attract customers. Red doors mean good luck to the Chinese, a paid-off mortgage to the Scotts, and a source of energy to Feng Shui followers.

Traditionally, red doors have represented safe havens. The Old Testament refers to a smear of red lamb’s blood placed above a doorway to offer protection for Israelite children against a plague coming to Egypt. In early America, a red door stood for welcome, a symbol of hospitality and a place to rest. During the American Civil War, red doors were rumored as refuges for travelers along the Underground Railroad.

The color red influences our behavior, says Scientific American; everything from your behaviour in the workplace to your love life, according to a BBC report on color psychology, the study of hues on human behavior. We associate red with extremes: love and hate, life and death—red hearts, blushing faces, scarlet letters, stop signs. Red activates our appetite so much that restaurants often use it on walls, table cloths, napkins, logos, menus and advertising.

So the house with the red door in Figure 1 piqued our interest when we saw it in Dwell Magazine’s list of “10 Homes with Distinctive Facades.” Those facades purportedly make those homes memorable. And we wondered, would eye tracking support the color psychology? Does the facade or the color red make that home memorable?

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Using eye tracking software from 3M called VAS (Visual Attention Software) that predicts where people will look within the first 3 to 5 seconds of viewing a photo (before their conscious brain can react), we examined the Belgian house with the red door designed by dmvA architects. Figure 2 shows the eye tracking heat map of its façade. The red areas glow brightest where people likely look most.

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In Figure 3 the eye tracking analysis’ red outlines indicate a 92% probability of viewing attention directed at the red door, 89% at the neighbor’s red roof, and 67% at the contrasting edge of the house. The numbers in Figure 4 show the viewing sequence with the red door just where we’d expect: first.

We live “in a world dominated by images and colour. Our sense of vision largely dictates how we perceive the environment around us,” says an article in The Conversation, Making Sense of Evolution. And human vision, which is dependent on light reflection to the retina that allows us to see color, responds to red light most. The retina contains photoreceptors called cones; and about 64 % of cones respond to red light, about 33% to green light, and about 2 % to blue light. When light hits the cones, a signal is sent from the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the brain which processes the information.

The eye tracking results of the house with the red door show that only the red door was memorable because our brains (without our conscious control) look for the color red first, then the edges of the building.

So, if you want the front of your house to get noticed, don’t follow Mick’s advice. Instead, paint it red.

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First Impressions Aren’t What You Think

Last month DWELL published an article called “10 Homes with Distinctive Facades,” that immediately caught our attention. It showed pictures of ten unusual houses, explaining:

First impressions are lasting.

While these 10 homes have many impressive design features that set them apart from the crowd, it’s their unique facades that make a particularly memorable impression.

That set us wondering: how do people take in unusual buildings? How will passersby  look at this architecture?

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original photo: Nic Granleese

We decided to eye track the images to find out. We used the off-the-shelf eye-tracking package from 3M called VAS (Visual Attention Software), which predicts where people will look within the first 3 to 5 seconds of viewing something (or in pre-attentive processing, before their conscious brain can get into the act.)

And we learned pretty quickly that in most cases – despite their uniqueness – these buildings can’t be memorable. Why? People don’t consciously see them. Why? They can’t  because their unconscious brain which always directs and precedes conscious activity – has directed their brains to look elsewhere.

The photo above shows  the eye-tracking analysis of an addition to a Victorian house in Melbourne, Australia by OOF! Architecture. Red-lined areas indicate 98% probability of viewing attention directed at the person walking by, and one window at building’s right. With the exception of high-contrast edge areas, the probability of people ignoring the rest of the building is at or close to 100 per cent! The heat map below, presenting the same information in different fashion, glows brightest where people will likely look most, fading to blue and black where they look least or not at all. And we see here, most of ‘Hello House’ is quite literally in the dark – simply not THERE, or worth looking at, from the brain’s perspective.

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The same hold true for this unusual residence near Tokyo, Japan, by architect Russell N. Thomsen, also profiled by DWELL. Areas outlined in red indicate a 98% probability people will focus on the father and child, and 20% or less possibility they’ll look at the house behind them. The heat map also glows reddest around the family at street level, particularly around the father and child; the building itself, the software indicates is going to be again effectively ignored.

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original photo: Dean Kaufman

The image at left tracks the sequence the eyes will likely follow in the scene: fixating first on the father holding the son on his shoulders, then the mom seated at sidewalk, then the child between them and finally a motor bike in a parking space. Nary a focus on the building itself.

So, first impressions aren’t what you always think: what’s memorable in these images is the people out front – not the architecture; without the people it’s pretty clear our brains wouldn’t let us give these buildings a first, let alone, second glance.

 

 

article by ann + janice

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