Minneapolis — Yesterday our blog quoted the campus planner Ira Fink, who said you should put a window in every faculty member’s office. “People like to look outside,” he said at the Society for College and University Planning’s annual meeting.
Well, Kristin Raab would take that statement a step futher. People like to be outside—heck, they need to be outside. Ms. Raab, who is both a public-health expert and an adjunct professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, spoke to a full room about campus landscaping that can reduce stress among students and faculty and staff members alike.
She started out detailing the ways that the college experience is stressful for students, never mind faculty members. Roughly half of male and female students cite some level of depression that interferes with their lives, and a study at the University of Minnesota showed that students with excessive stress also had lower GPA’s. (Might be a chicken-and-egg problem there.)
At the same time, Ms. Raab noted, many studies have shown that exposure to natural environments reduces tension, lowers blood pressure, and improves one’s ability to focus on tasks. These reactions are rooted in an innate “biophilia” in people, she said. “We didn’t evolve in the built environment. We evolved in nature.”
So to use nature to improve the work environment makes sense. But researchers have shown that more than just a patch of grass and a few saplings are called for. A natural healing environment, she said, needs to provide a physical and aesthetic break from the work environment. It should provide a sense of fascination. It should have a connectedness that a path through a garden might provide.
Ms. Raab presented a plan for a healing garden at the University of Minnesota, which she had created as part of her graduate work. That garden would incorporate a reflecting pool, lights to counter seasonal affective disorder, and various trees along a path to reflect the seasons, leading to a balcony overlooking the Mississippi River. (Her criticism of the campus: “It’s surprising that there is not a strong connection to the Mississippi River.” Apparently, early plans laid out such a connection, but over time the university turned away from it.)
Talk of healing gardens may sound a little goofy to the uninitiated. But consider that a number of hospitals have embraced the idea, and that a growing body of research and academic programs examine the healing effects of nature. Colleges have a great resource in their campus greens. Why not use them to their full potential?