Sounds, photographs, light. Three elements are combined to create virtual nature spaces in Metla House, Joensuu. The famous wooden office building has housed innovative solutions since it was built. This time, the aim is to test virtual nature in practice and help budding enterprises find each other.
– This space is not about rushing in and turning the nature on. It is just another office space, but the one where you are exposed to nature and its empowering effects, explains Lauri Sikanen, principal scientist in Luke.
From elements to concepts
Two spaces – or as Sikanen says – virtual nature applications are being planned, one in the lobby and the other in one of the office rooms.
– We combine technology and contents. Together, good technology and content make a concept.
Business concepts are Sikanen’s expertise in the project. The spaces will be build by entrepreneurs after workshops and a tendering process.
– We are bringing companies and experts together. Last week, a Portuguese sound system company and sound scientists of the University of Eastern Finland found each other in our workshop.
Sikanen hopes that new partnerships will create a cluster of virtual nature expertise in Finland.
The next trend?
Sikanen would not be surprised if virtual nature became a trend in interior decoration soon.
– Virtual nature should be included when designing buildings. The user groups are so varied and interesting: hospitals, prisons, schools, to name a few. Even luxury cruisers could take travellers to a virtual tour in places where the ship cannot access.
Concept development and clustering turn the thoughts to export markets. How far is Finland from it?
– Not very far, I would say. It takes the right companies to combine their skills and create a product, which is easy for the customers to use. Iron is hot and things are happening in the field, Sikanen says.
The spaces in Metla House should be ready for testing by the autumn. The feedback will be analysed and used for further development.
– We have already had a lot of inquiries of when the spaces can be visited. Adds pressure to us, Sikanen nods, pleased.
Science says: nature supports our minds
Research professor Liisa Tyrväinen has worked with the well-being effects of nature since 2005. She is now waiting for the latest results of laboratory studies just finished in Otaniemi, Helsinki.
Luke scientists work in close collaboration with content designers and a brain researcher to investigate, if a short stay in a virtual nature environment helps knowledge workers to reduce their stress.
– We are not replacing recreation in nature with virtual technology. This is just one way to bring the benefits of nature to offices. We know nature supports cognitive performance and recovery from stress, and even watching nature photographs has an effect, Tyrväinen points out.
Collaboration with brain research
Virtual nature usually consists of live images and sounds or a computer-assisted virtual environment. Tyrväinen’s group has built an experimental setting with sound and video. Scientists monitor changes in users’ physiology and recovery from stress.
– We want to know, if rests in virtual nature help to unwind and which elements are the most effective ones.
A walk in forest has a stronger effect on us than virtual nature. On the other hand, rain or ambient noise could disturb the experience. That is why the controlled laboratory is important for the scientists.
– In the laboratory, we can create a pleasant soundscape. Experiencing nature with all senses, like smell, is important and it is possible to build more realistic virtual environments with technology. However, in our study, the aim is to recover from work. Therefore, the senses should not be overstressed, Tyrväinen explains.
The results will be used in concept development.
– Many of us have our own favourite places in the nature. In the future, the design of the virtual nature environments could use research based information so, that choosing our favourite places would be possible also in the virtual environment, Tyrväinen describes.
Growing field of research
For professor herself, nature is an important part of a working day.
– I am lucky to have a beautiful landscape outside my window. I intentionally take a look outside when I need to rest. This is what fewer of us have, as the multipurpose offices offer no window views and cities are built densely.
The scientists have just started to calculate the results of the experiment.
– I cannot reveal anything at this stage, but what we are already sure of is that our experimental setting works. As the theme is so interesting, we plan to enhance its research in Luke in the future, Tyrväinen concludes.