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Experience of the built environment has intensified around the world in the last 3 years, with restrictive movement and enforced lockdowns, some of which continue today. So, with this suspended state, questions of social imbalance, spatial quality, and mindful design, the ‘what next’ came to the fore and fostered a multidisciplinary outreach, something common in the world of forecasting, but perhaps less so in architecture and interior design.
Looking back now, you realise that as creative creatures we are collecting information constantly and those physical limitations led to more open and thoughtful conversations on platforms like LinkedIn. One of these was between Justine Fox, a colour expert specialised in brand and the built environment and Japanese artist June Mineyama-Smithson around spatial design and the concept of the use of accessible colour and pattern to encourage or enhance feelings of positivity when the world around was a scary place.
Mineyama-Smithson, known for her bold use of colour, had been collaborating with neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart for an ITV Creates special project with the aim of finding the ‘optimum optimism’. Through xR (Extended Reality) placing a mirror-finished ITV logo in the LED wall and floor environment to play motion graphics they created an immersive sensory experience to take viewers on a D.O.S.E.* inducing journey. (*happy brain chemicals: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins).
The learnings from this, in the way that our brains recognise, and release chemicals connected with Fox’s indepth knowledge of colour psychology, the impact of informed harmonised palettes and the different ways we interact with them. Could there be alternative levels of immersive colour intensity to initiate happier and healthier experiences?
‘The collaborative process really stretches both the creative and problem-solving aspects of your mind.’ says Fox, ‘In this case, our conversation had led us to explore how we could contribute to people’s wellbeing, building targeted colour outposts to reduce feelings of anxiety and bring people back into the cities. I started with three specifically designed palettes, one super bright and visible, one warm and cocooning and a final light reflective, clear pastels. June really responded to this last palette for the way it made her feel and the challenge it offered her as an artist.’
‘Zen Buddhist monks purify their minds by raking the dry garden, Karesansui (枯山水, with rocks and sand to create patterns. By creating these waterless rivers and mountains, that represent the universe, the monks make space for contemplation and meditation.’ says Mineyama-Smithson. ‘The subtlety and contrast within this palette aimed to capture and reflect the changing light of the day, connecting to our natural cycle. For me this resonates with the Buddhist’s idea of ‘impermanence’ and ‘letting go’ that brings our awareness to the now. After experiencing anxiety and uncertainty from the pandemic, this is a refreshing reminder.’
Mineyama-Smithson applied the colour palette, designed by Fox with stress recovering blues and greens as the foundation, to her own interpretation of Karesansui garden, as an artistic graphic expression of flowing water in a form of dry rocks and sand with a contemporary playful pattern aiming to attract a wider audience regardless of their background.
When we are open to learning for the benefit of the people you want to reach with a collaborative project, the opportunities to include more expertise that take the experience to a new level grow.
Fashion designer turned award-winning garden design Baz Grainger joined this conversation to make spaces that not only feel good but are healthier in terms of improved air quality and the release of mood-boosting pheromones, as well as being an educational platform for growing resilient food-based herb planting.
The result is the foundation for an adaptable concept that can sit equally within a public building or the urban realm in the form of an active meditation station accessible to everyone. Each station simply includes a seat, fishing industry waste aggregate and a rake, with a nutritional plant. Visitors can make their own Karesansui to purify and express their minds.
Design teams need to be so much more for us to tackle the existential crises facing our futures. Only through engagement in cross-disciplinary partnerships, working together, cultivating unique skill sets with people at multiple points in their careers, do we make the rapid positive change we need.
Justine Fox is the founder of the eponymous Studio Justine Fox – a highly regarded colour consultancy, specialising in colour psychology, trend forecasting and consumer insights.
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