Most of us spend the predominant part of our lives indoors. These spaces where we live, study, work and relax are often lacking in the natural sensory stimuli that is being shown more and more to increase our productivity, happiness and health. Evidence has begun to emerge that the inclusion of Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli (NRSS) can also start to enhance our wellbeing particularly in the workplace.
NRSS are created by objects or materials in consistent yet unpredictable motion. Such stimuli can be seen in many forms of natural motion, the reflections from water or the sway of grasses for example – ever changing but ever the same. Short interactions with non-rhythmic-sensory-stimuli have been shown to improve blood pressure and heart rate as well as having a positive effect on the sympathetic nervous system. Why do you think doctors and dentists so often have fish tanks in their waiting rooms? The gentle, repetitive natural motion both relaxes and distracts us from our other worries.
NRSS can also help us to increase our productivity and focus as well as reducing stress. Kaplan and Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory outlines the idea that the brain becomes less productive if too much time is spent directing attention towards one task without a break. Natural stimuli, according to the theory, helps to encourage a brief redirection in our attention, allowing us to return to the task with renewed focus. Non rhythmic sensory stimuli, when caught in our peripheral vision can instinctively capture our attention as a brief and welcome distraction from the task at hand. Looking up in this way allows the muscles in our eyes to relax after a long period of shortened focal depth which can help to reduce tension headaches and eye strains, in turn increasing our productivity.
Biophilic stimuli have been seen in the past, as inaccessible within the work environment because access to natural stimuli such as bodies of water, or fields and trees are often limited. Mimicking the non-rhythmic patterns and movement found in rural environments however, through Biophilic Design considerations, can allow us to experience their health and wellbeing benefits in a more accessible way.
While biophilic considerations are often governed by budget, design choices can be made at all scales to bring the benefits of NRSS into interiors. A few small scale interventions could be the inclusion of pot plants or lightweight fabrics alongside well ventilated spaces or rippling reflective surfaces such as hand glazed tiles which enable dynamic light reflections to occur as viewers pass by.
At Oliver Heath Design, we have been examining how technological advancement has started to play a roll in implementing the subtle benefits of Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli within the design industry. Here are some larger scale examples of techniques for mimicking the non-rhythmic stimuli found in nature:
- Sur-Natures, in Charles de Gaulle airport, is a digital gardenscape which grows in real time and moves as passers by stimulate the technology. The responsive, playful nature of the installation makes it eye catching and it provides mental respite from the more stressful airport spaces which lack dynamic stimuli.
- Mechanically generated NRSS can also be an effective design technique as shown by ‘Diffusion Choir’ a kinetic sculpture commissioned by Biomed Realty for its offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts US. The sculpture makes use of a ‘flocking algorithm’ which controls the opening and closing of hundreds of folding components. The algorithm allows the collective motion of the components to imitate the murmerations of birds. The sculpture works well in the open plan office environment by allowing the visual stimuli to be caught in people’s peripheral vision.
- Sky Factory uses ‘virtual skylights’ to mimic the movement of clouds and the changes in light throughout the day. It has been suggested that gentle, whimsical movements such as the motion of clouds can be psychologically associated with safety or comfort and furthermore, may facilitate creative thought.
- Ledisvet Dynamic Light Panels introduce NRSS into a variety of environments via programable lighting animations. The panels project gentle, dynamic patterns of motion into various interior environments, helping to create a soothing atmosphere within the surrounding environment and promoting user wellbeing.
- Digital technology has been utilized in a striking and impressive display by Obscura Digital for the lobby of Salesforce’s flagship office in San Francisco. Their installation of a series of LED screens along one wall allows them to transform the space into a hyperreal environment. This environment varies as they play high resolution films of the Redwood National Park and a stunning computer generated waterfall, providing employees and visitors exposure to natural analogues and imagery.