Humans spend 90 per cent of their life indoors, which is bad for your physical and mental health. Danish architect Anders Barslund works to reconnect people to the outside world by changing four things in our homes.
“Walk into a forest and within five minutes your body and brain start to change. Your heart rate slows, your facial muscles relax, and your hard-working frontal lobes begin to quieten down. All this boosts your productivity and creativity.”
These words belong to Florence Williams, an American journalist who last year wrote a book called The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. According to a study conducted by YouGov across 14 countries in Europe and North America, the average person spends 90 per cent of their time indoors.
This makes people susceptible to heart disease, depression, asthma and other health problems. The conclusion is that the greater the connection people have with nature, the happier and healthier they are likely to be. According to Danish architect Anders Barslund, architecture can help strengthen that connection.
“Most houses in the last 50 years were built to reflect shifting trends in society rather than adapting to our physical and psychological needs. People live in box-shaped buildings designed at a time where we tried to remove ourselves from nature without knowing the harm of it. If you change a few things in these homes, you create a healthier connection with nature,” Anders Barslund says.
He runs his own architecture firm, where he passionately rebuilds and remodels old houses as well as designing new ones. Anders Barslund suggests four principles to connect your home with the outside world, thereby reaping some health benefits from nature.
1. Cutting holes in walls and ceilings
The obvious way to obtain a closer connection with the world outside is to introduce more windows into a house, or make existing windows bigger. A skylight in the roof or some floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room make the sky or the garden a natural part of your indoor environment, always guiding your gaze outwards. However, Anders Barslund points out that not all people can afford to do this throughout their home, which leads him to the next solution:
2. Using colour to lessen the gap
Anders Barslund suggests that utilizing colours from the trees or buildings situated outside your window may help bring about a better connection. It could be done by painting a wall in the same shade of brown as a tree trunk outside, or in the same colour as the roof on a building across the street. He explains:
“By creating a visual kinship between the world outside your window and the things inside your home, you build a bridge in your mind by filling the gap between being indoors and outdoors with colour. The physical border between the two still exists, but the psychological gap is greatly lessened.”
3. Compression and release
Inspired by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Anders Barslund tries to redefine the pressure that exists in certain rooms in homes he renovates. When you walk outside, there is no ceiling above you, but when you enter a building you feel compressed compared to the freedom of being outdoors.
Following Frank Lloyd Wright’s theory of compression and release, Anders Barslund suggests lowering the ceiling in hallways and entrances and painting such spaces in darker colours. These two things combined mean that people feel compressed in these rooms, which forces them to move forward towards a room with more light and a higher ceiling, which in turn gives them a feeling of release.
“It should be a bit uncomfortable to be between two rooms. Hallways and entrances should be dark and cramped, forcing you to move towards the light in the next room, because when you enter a big room again it almost feels as though you have stepped outside,” Anders Barslund says.
4. Improving sound
In nature, there is no reverb because there are no flat surfaces from where sound can bounce off. That’s pleasing to the human ear and mind, which are easily disturbed by reverbing sounds. Perhaps you know the feeling: sitting at a family party with 30 people cramped in a living room where it becomes almost impossible to hear what the person sitting next to you is saying. That’s why it is a release to listen to nature.
“In the past, architects often overlooked acoustics when building houses or apartments. But, hanging acoustic panels on the walls or using different materials for the ceiling can easily help. We just need to be inspired by how concert halls are made. If we build uneven surfaces, we can easily prevent noise bouncing all over the place. In particular, we focus on the point where the walls meet the ceiling. By adjusting this angle just a little, we can make great improvements in acoustics.”
Reconnecting your home with nature cannot substitute for being outside. However, it may improve the quality of the time you spend indoors. Anders Barslund reveals that he also advocates principles other than the four described above, though he stresses that these four tenets in particular represent some of the most effective ways to reap the benefits of the outside world.