Indoor Weather As A Means To Presence…

Indoor Weather As A Means To Presence

“The strange patch of pale sunlight on the ceiling suddenly broke into ripples, bright silver spots sprinkled it and then disappeared. From these running ripples, from the miniature waves, Oleg realized at last that the mysterious sunny cloud on the ceiling was simply a reflection from a puddle that remained near the fence outdoors. A transformation of a simple puddle.  And now a little wind had begun to blow.”

These are the thoughts of Oleg Kostoglotov, the semi-autobiographical central figure of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel The Cancer Ward, describing how his concern over a pending medical procedure disappeared on noticing wind-animated caustics, like those illustrated below, on the ceiling of his hospital room.

Wind and water-drop animated caustics reflected from an outdoor pool onto an interior ceiling: Water Glass House, Kengo Kuma, Atami, Japan, 1995.

It turns out that there is a scientific basis to the calming effect described by Solzhenitsyn, which I and a group of psychologists have been able to demonstrate, both in controlled experiments and in on-site testing in a medical waiting room.

Field testing of wind-animated sunlight in a medical waiting room.

Such natural movements were found to reduce stress and improve attention in much the same way as mindfulness does. That could be significant, because using such movement in the indoor environments where we live and work would appear to have significant practical advantages over meditative practices: it requires no action or special training, and can be accessed without disrupting other activities.

There are many similar natural animations produced by the sun, wind and rain. The main obstacle was figuring out how to bring them indoors. Three simple techniques were identified:  enclosure in an internal courtyard, projection onto an interior surface, and back projection onto a translucent material.

Three simple ways of bringing the natural movement of the weather in doors: enclosure in an internal courtyard, projection onto an interior surface, and back projection onto a translucent material.

Based on these findings, the author is now planning a series of controlled experiments directly comparing the relative evocation of presence of natural indoor animation and a range of established mindfulness techniques. So please watch this space!

For more information on this research, see the recently published book, Naturally Animated Architecture  (World Scientific), which won the 2018 Digital Book World Award for architecture.

Further Reading:  Kevin Nute, “The Presence of the Weather,” Architectural Design, January 2016; Nute, “How to Stay Calmer, More Alert and Save the Environment: Bring the Weather in Doors,” The Washington Post, August 2017, Nute and Chen, “Temporal Cues in Built Environments,” The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, 2018; Nute and Chen, “Towards an Architecture of the Long Now: Natural Indoor Animation as a Means to Presence,” forthcoming, The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, 2019.


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Kevin Nute

Kevin Nute is an architectural theorist, designer and educator. He earned his doctorate at Cambridge, and prior to joining the…

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