Your Brain on Water

Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden image: Jack Carman

Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden
image: Jack Carman

Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do
Wallace J. Nichols
2015

When I heard writer and sea turtle expert Wallace J. Nichols speak in Sausalito last summer, I was delighted by how much of what he said resembled the science behind why nature is good for our health and well-being. He quoted much of the same research we landscape architects do when promoting healthcare and therapeutic gardens. I knew I had to read his book, and I was amazed by the range of information that he brings together as both a scientist and an unabashed ocean lover in his book Blue Mind.

Blue Mind is an enjoyable read about the numinous experience of water, coupled with an urgent message to wake up to what is ‘hidden in plain sight’ in the hopes that we humans can transform the way we treat our planet’s resources. Nichols shares a strong emotional connection to this liquid element, as do many people who are willing to pay a lot of money to travel to beautiful beaches for vacations and spend top dollar for the house with a view of the water. For those of us who are curious to know what’s up with that from a scientific evidence point of view, this book explains the psychology and physiology of why we want and need the benefits associated with spending time in the presence of water.

In Blue Mind, Nichols makes an appeal to a broad range of people who might not feel convinced that emotion alone is a serious enough reason to cherish and protect this basic resource. He demonstrates the phenomenon of how people are attracted to water with cultural data, and how we are physically wired to benefit from the symbolism, physicality, color, sound, and essence of water as we encounter it in the environment, citing recent neuroscience studies and plenty of footnotes to point the reader to explore the topic further. Be prepared to dive deep from the comfort of your reading chair.

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Healthcare & Therapeutic Design in Chicago

The Crown Sky Garden, at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, designed by Mikyoung Kim Design image: Marni Barnes

The Crown Sky Garden, at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, designed by Mikyoung Kim Design
image: Marni Barnes

If you are considering attending the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago this November, you have until June 19 to register at the early bird rate. You know you want to go, so register now so you don’t have to pay more money (like I did last year:-/ ).

Here are a few sessions on topics that might influence your decision:

Chicago’s Therapeutic Healing Spaces
Friday, November 6, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Urban Green Space and Mental Well-being: Evidence-Based Design
Friday, November 6, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Designing Incentives for Health
Saturday, November 7, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Evidence-based Design: Sensory Play Gardens and Children with Developmental Disorders
Sunday, November 8, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Healthcare and Therapeutic Design PPN Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 12:45 PM – 2:15 PM

An Integrated Interdisciplinary Approach to Therapeutic Design
Monday, November 9, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM

Fortunately, these sessions were scheduled with no overlaps, so you could attend them all! Unfortunately, there are other related topics that also look enticing, some of which do overlap, that you may want to consider.

I’ve listed several sessions of interest, as well as more information on the above sessions, below, complete with times, descriptions, and speakers. See the Annual Meeting website for more information on the more than 130 education sessions, field sessions, workshops, and general sessions that will be offered throughout the meeting.

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The Future of Aging

Russian River and Ocean 12x4 image: Annette Heacox

Russian River and Ocean 12×4
image: Annette Heacox

“The young and even the middle-aged can’t truly appreciate what it is to be old.” (-) “The sheer aloneness and inescapability of it. A different shore. You have gone somewhere and you aren’t coming back.” 

Why do we run away from aging in our current society? Aging is an unavoidable reality. Regardless of what we do to our bodies and minds, we age. But can racing against aging become embracing our golden years?

In this admittedly non-academic post, I share hopes and fears and also my research on the topic of aging. A few years ago, I wrote a questionnaire targeting the elderly population. Aging should concern us all, and we urgently need new attitudes and answers.

I want to challenge that vision of running away from aging. I’ll brainstorm some answers and propose new ideas partially based on the questionnaire I addressed to seniors. We are tomorrow’s elderly; there is always hope.

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Healing Gardens as Transformative Spaces

In the labyrinth with Air (one of the four sculptural elements) at Schneider Healing Garden at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center image: Brad Feinknopf

In the Schneider Healing Garden’s labyrinth at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland
image: Brad Feinknopf

Below is an excerpt from the article “‘It’s Somewhere Else Instead’: Healing Gardens as Transformative Spaces,” published in the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects’ LANDSCAPES | PAYSAGES magazine. To read the full article, visit CSLA’s website and see volume 16, number 2, pages 20-23.

Healing gardens are intentionally designed to provide a physical space that supports people who are dealing with disruptions in their lives that make the present confusing and the future uncertain. Whether a person with a challenging health issue, a loved one, or a caregiver, one is waiting in liminal space, suspended at the threshold of new experiences.

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Healing Labyrinth for Cancer Support

image: Thomas Baker

image: Thomas Baker

[The labyrinth] is…at once the cosmos, the world, the individual life, the temple, the town, man, the womb—or intestines of the Mother (earth), the convolutions of the brain, the consciousness, the heart, the pilgrimage, the journey, and the Way.
–Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral

The Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support was built in 2000 as part of the Athens Regional Medical Center (ARMC). The Center serves the community of Athens, GA and the northeast region of the state. It is a welcoming “safe harbor” for anyone affected by cancer and provides resources, research, and access to social services, as well as a supportive therapeutic outdoor environment for patients and their families as they deal with the physical, social, and emotional impacts of cancer treatment. The Center and surrounding gardens also serves ARMC medical professionals and caregivers who care for these patients and their families.

Construction on the Loran Smith Center began in 1999. With therapeutic gardens and healing landscapes as her research area, Professor Marguerite Koepke saw this as a special opportunity to establish a dialogue with the hospital and Center. ARMC was very receptive to the collaboration and Koepke prepared the first master plan for their approximately two-acre site.

At that time, Koepke was also establishing a new semester-long course in therapeutic garden and healing landscapes design at the University of Georgia (UGA). She saw her relationship with the ARMC and the Center as an important opportunity to involve students in local service learning projects, especially those in medical settings, with real clients and real sites. Over the years, as the ARMC campus has grown and changed, her classes have been involved in multiple projects, including several revised master plans and small garden area designs. Design elements in these long-term master plans have typically included a grotto, a meditation/labyrinth garden, memorial garden and numerous naming opportunities, a wetland meadow with observation points for quiet meditation, woodland walking paths, small play areas for young users, and an area designated for a small greenhouse to support horticulture therapy and year-round use.

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Healing Gardens: Therapeutic by Design

Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton has a 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden that serves its oncology department.  image: Hafs Epstein Landscape Architecture

Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton has a 3,000 square-foot rooftop garden that serves its oncology department.
image: Hafs Epstein Landscape Architecture

Do you think all gardens are therapeutic? Can a “healing garden” be harmful?

Gardens with particular characteristics have been shown to have positive effects in health outcomes, primarily through the facilitation of stress reduction, but the answer is that many gardens are not therapeutic, and some gardens may actually increase stress levels in humans.

Stress can lead to several adverse health outcomes and should be ameliorated by design, so why do some (even award-winning) healing gardens fail? The article “Not all healing gardens deliver as advertised,” published on DJC.com, provides three general principles that are essential for gardens to provide positive results, and list several factors that limit the benefits gardens can provide.

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Landscape Architecture Awards for Healthcare Environments

image: Healthcare Vendome Media

image: Vendome Healthcare Media

Vendome Group, publisher of Healthcare Design, Environments for Aging, and Behavioral Healthcare, in conjunction with The Center for Health Design and The Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments, is launching their inaugural design awards program this fall. This is the first such awards program that is specifically for therapeutic landscape design, recognizing projects in three major categories: acute care, senior living, and behavioral health.

The significance of the new awards program lies in its focus on therapeutic landscapes and its sponsorship by The Center for Health Design, the leading voice in the healthcare design industry for architects, interior designers, and hospital administrators. These awards represent an important step toward the more integrated design of healthcare environments. Never before have landscape architects had the opportunity to be recognized specifically for their accomplishments in healthcare design.

I’d like to encourage everyone who has built work in this niche market of our profession to submit your projects and to showcase the great work that we do. If you believe that your work makes a meaningful difference in this industry, then please demonstrate that and share your best projects. We will all benefit from your success.

Entry forms are due September 20, and information on how to enter can be found on Healthcare Design’s website.

Good luck!

by Jerry Smith, FASLA