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Making nature work for you

How to use your environment to recover focus quickly

For many of us, evenings are a time to retire from a tiring workday. We turn on a movie on Netflix or play video games to switch off mentally. After all, such activities make you forget all the outstanding items that you didn’t get to do. As it turns out, these activities may not be helping you relax. Instead, they may still be draining your energy.

One of the ways to determine mental energy is to measure the attention levels of an individual. According to Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory, attention levels exist in four states. Direct, Fatigue, Effortless and Restoration.

  • Direct attention state is when we are concentrating on cognitive-heavy tasks such as working in the office.
  • We enter a fatigued state when we use up all our attention energy.
  • We attempt to recover by avoiding attention-heavy tasks and engage in effortless activities, such as scrolling mindlessly through Instagram.
  • But to truly give our mind a break to recover, we need to enter a restorative state. For example, meditating, strolling through the park and going to bed.

By realising the differences between these four attention states, how we relax may not be relaxing for us. That is because the conditions around such activities may be unfavourable for restoration to occur. For example, video games often contain stimuli that prompt us to complete tasks one after another. Such conditions prevent us from entering the restorative state. In other words, our attention is held captive by the activity and do not have the chance to recover appropriately.

Farnsworth House

Here is where nature plays a vital role in bringing us into an Effortless and Restoration state.As Kaplan highlighted, nature possesses soft stimuli that capture our attention effortlessly.

Examples of such stimuli include scenes of lush greenery, fluffy clouds floating across a blue sky and the sound of water cascading down a creek. These are recognised as soft stimuli because they gently catch our senses and give us brief moments to clear our mind and restore our focus.

In 1991, Professor Hartig and his research team conducted a study, which helped support this theory. Three groups of participants were tasked to complete an attention-demanding test. After the test, the first group took a 40-minute walk in the wilderness, the second group took a 40-minute walk in an urban area and the third group took a 40-minute break in a room listening to music and reading a magazine. Then, they were asked to complete the test again. Unsurprisingly, the group that took a walk in the wilderness outperformed the other two groups.

Merri Creek

While we know that nature has strong mental restorative benefits for individuals, the benefits of water landscapes in restoring mental benefits are less known. Hence, our research to discover the value of Merri Creek for occupants of The Wilds led us to some interesting finds.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology by Professor Felsten found that some of the most attention restorative interiors were those with views of nature, especially those with waterscapes.

The survey of 236 participants placed in four different indoor spaces with varying views of nature and murals of nature revealed that views of waterscapes were a significant factor in helping restore attention. 

From this research, the design strategy for The Wilds was to align the frontages towards the creek. The kitchens were also opened to face the windows, allowing residents to cook and enjoy the scenic views. In doing so, residents can reap the restorative rewards of Merri Creek from the comforts of their own homes. Or even better, they can step out of their homes and immediately enjoy an evening stroll along Merri Creek.


  • Transformed thinking into action

Here at Beulah, our projects are driven by investigating thinking and the pursuit for design and research innovation. Through these insights, we create transformational spaces and experience for present and future generations.

We transform this thinking into action for The Wilds.


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