6 Strategies for Creating Mindful Landscapes
Have you ever gone for a walk or hike to clear your mind? The outdoors and physical activity have a way of helping us quiet our mind and release our worries and stress. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from screens and immerse yourself in the real world, allowing you to be fully present in your body and in the moment.
At Io, we place a great deal of emphasis on designing physical spaces that promote mindfulness and presence. However, before delving into the specifics of our strategies, it’s important to consider how you want to feel in a given space. By doing so, you can ensure that the resulting design aligns with your intended atmosphere and desired emotional response.
Let’s take a moment to center ourselves. Begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths, allowing your mind to clear and calm. Once you feel centered, envision yourself in your future space or place. Look beyond the physical elements and consider the quality of light, textures, temperature, and smells. Imagine engaging with this place and take note of how it makes you feel. Are there others sharing the space with you? What activities are you engaged in?
After spending a few moments visualizing, take some time to reflect on your experience. Write down your thoughts and feelings, allowing yourself to fully explore your impressions and emotions. This exercise can help you gain clarity on your desired atmosphere and guide your design choices for creating a space that truly resonates with you.
We often use this exercise with our clients to encourage them to move beyond the surface level qualities of design and explore the deeper emotional and physical aspects of the spaces they wish to create. Gaining clarity on these qualities can open up a more meaningful conversation and identify strategies to incorporate mindfulness into the design.
As you reflect on your experience, you may choose to employ various strategies in different ways or combinations to achieve your desired atmosphere. Remember that there is no single “right” way to infuse mindfulness into a space. The key is to have a clear understanding of the emotions and feelings you wish to evoke before beginning the design process. With this foundation in place, you can create a space that promotes a sense of peace and well-being.
We’ve identified two spatial strategies and four sensory strategies that are rooted in the physicality of the human body and its relationship to the surrounding environment. By prioritizing these qualities in our design process, we move beyond simply creating aesthetically pleasing spaces and engage the mind, body, and spirit in a more holistic way. Through these strategies, we can encourage a deeper connection between individuals and their environment, allowing for a greater sense of mindfulness and well-being. By incorporating these physical and sensory qualities into our design, we can create spaces that support the needs of their inhabitants.
1. Create Space
A well-designed space can envelop and embrace you like a warm hug. You can immediately sense whether a space is well-designed or not based on its spatial qualities, whether it feels centering and grounding or uncomfortable and exposed. When creating mindful landscapes, it’s essential to prioritize smaller, more intimate spaces. However, a larger public space can also be successfully designed to balance active engagement and passive observation (people watching). This can be achieved through careful consideration of the spatial organization, use of natural elements, and design features that encourage mindful engagement with the surroundings. By intentionally designing spaces that promote calmness, comfort, and a sense of security, we can foster a deeper connection with nature and promote well-being. Read more about the principles of defining outdoor spaces here.
2. Movement Choreography
Much like walking meditation or a labyrinth, landscape design can incorporate movement to physically engage people with the space. This technique is especially useful for trail and recreation-oriented projects but can also be applied to parks and gardens. The key is to carefully plan the path of travel and sequence of experiences to create an intuitive journey that doesn’t overwhelm visitors with too many options. To achieve this, use spatial cues and material delineation to guide visitors along the desired path. Employ the technique of conceal and reveal to entice visitors towards their destination, offering glimpses of what’s to come along the way. Finally, create a moment of anticipation and reward by leading visitors through a portal, around a bend, or over a knoll to reveal a breathtaking view or focal point, such as a sculpture, fountain, or storied tree. With these techniques, you can create an immersive and engaging experience that encourages mindfulness and a deeper connection to the surrounding environment.
3. What Do You Feel?
Incorporating texture into landscape design can have a profound impact on our sensory experience of a space. When stepping off a smooth concrete surface and onto a crunchy stone path, our awareness is drawn to our feet, our ears (see #5) and the surrounding environment, inviting us to slow down and be present in the moment. Likewise, the texture of seating surfaces can influence our level of comfort and engagement with the space. For example, concrete or metal seating surfaces can feel cold and unwelcoming, while wood provides a warmer and more inviting tactile and visual experience.
When designing landscapes for mindfulness, it’s essential to be as thoughtful about texture as we are about visual qualities. The use of natural materials, such as stone, wood, or even plants, can create a sense of connection to the environment and promote a grounding presence. Additionally, the strategic use of texture can guide movement and reinforce the sensory experience of a space. By consciously designing with texture, we can create a more engaging and immersive experience in our environments.
4. Sun & Shade
Controlling light is a fundamental aspect of architecture that often gets overlooked in landscape design. While managing natural light can be challenging, a mindful designer takes into account solar patterns and changing shadows throughout the day and seasons. Strategically placing fences, walls, screens, overhead elements, and vegetation can create desired sun and shading effects that enhance the overall experience. Additionally, electric lighting design can offer a wealth of opportunities beyond mere visibility and safety after dark, enabling designers to create atmospheres that evoke specific moods and emotions. Light, in the form of solar radiation, also affects the thermal qualities of outdoor spaces. Thus, a skilled and thoughtful landscape designer considers the changing seasons to provide cooling shade in the summer and sunny perches in the fall, winter, and spring months to ensure optimum user comfort.
5. What Do You Hear?
All day every day our ears are bombarded with sounds big and small, so much sound that our brain is constantly trying to filter it out an exercise that requires at least some amount of emotional energy. When designing a landscape, it’s important to consider how sound can impact people’s experience of the space. While filtering out obnoxious noises is an obvious priority, a mindful designer should also aim to create a focused soundscape that enhances the environment. One way to achieve this is through white noise, such as a water feature, which can provide a soothing auditory, tactile, and visual experience. Additionally, a designer might consider the sounds of natural elements, like wind moving through trees or birds singing, and use them to add to the sensory experience. By being intentional about sound, a designer can help people connect more deeply with their surroundings and themselves.
6. Engage the Sense of Smell
The power of scent cannot be underestimated. It has a unique ability to trigger strong physiological responses and evoke vivid memories and emotions. For example, black locust trees evoke memories of doing fieldwork for our Allen Park Cultural Landscape Report. In a mindful landscape, incorporating fragrant plants near seating areas can enhance the sensory experience. Consider using perennials such as lavender, mint, and hyssop to add to the olfactory bouquet. However, it is also essential to control bad smells such as avoiding the siting of foul-smelling trash enclosures near usable outdoor spaces. The olfactory sensory experience can also be enriched by programming a space with an outdoor cafe or bakery. By engaging the sense of smell, we can create a more immersive and memorable design that brings awareness to our physical being in time and space.
Designing with a focus on sensory qualities allows us to transcend mere artifice in design and engage the body and mind in the present moment. By incorporating elements that stimulate the senses, we create spaces that are not only visually pleasing, but also invite us to be fully present in our surroundings. In this way, design becomes a tool for experiencing the world around us, rather than a mere decoration.