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Nature vs. Urban


Our project is an audio & visual interpretation of natural and urban environments, supported by a video computational artefact presented to participants as a research experiment.

Inspired by the theory of phenomenology, we are exploring the relationship between perceptual experience and its impact on individual’s thoughts. For the experiment, we also wanted to recognise how the artefact would affect the way our participants perceived these environments.


The two theories we mainly focus on are from the article’ Natural Versus Urban Scenes’ by Roger s. Ulrich and ‘ Phenomenology of Perception’ by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

From Ulrich’s article, we are particularly interested in the research about comparing nature and urban from the public. This research was done in 37 years ago which the majority agrees on the nature scenes are more pleasing than urban ones. From there we decided to adapt the methodology and project on our research.                              

On the other hand, we are also inspired by the studies of phenomenology, in the way of modifying people’s perception by giving them the materials that we want them to perceive. As in creating an environment we design and invite our audience to experience through  senses and discuss their reactions if it influences on their thoughts of nature and urban.

Connect the outer influence to body to the thoughts.


From the beginning of this project we had a clear plan to create an audio-visual artefact as a way of expressing our interpretation of the two environments. Our whole project revolved around experience, we wanted to express our experiences in the artefact and learn about others (our participants) in the experiment.

Early on in the process we decided to share with each other what feelings, experiences and memories natural and urban environments brought to mind. These ideas laid the ground works for the development of our artefact. The first video expressed nature in the form of a vibrantly colourful supershape inspired by the work of Paul Bourke and Reza Ali. This interpretation was based on our feelings of calm and discussions around the growth of natural organisms. We decided that our second video, representing urban environments, would be made up of monochrome digital noise. In this discussions words like grey, noise and industrial were brought up which developed into this design. The soundscapes have been included after the digital visual representation and they are recordings of nature and a rush-hour cityscape.

produced by: Penny (Pin Ju) Chen, Ben Sammon, Shuai Xu, Theo Vlagkas


The Experiment

After the creation of our artefact we decided to explore other peoples experiences of the two environments. We were inspired by Roger S. Ulrich’s 1981 study of the physiological and psychological effects of urban and natural environments. His participants were shown slides of different environments and their physiology was measured using their brainwaves. This study shows that all of the participants found natural scenes such as water and vegetation more pleasant and beautiful compared to urban scenes. We decided to look into this further in our research.

We were also inspired by the research methods of phenomenology which can be defined as, ‘a qualitative research method that is used to describe how human beings experience a certain phenomenon.’ We were interested in exploring the subjective experiences of individuals on a ‘qualitative’ basis, learning about how they feel about natural and urban environments through an interview process.




We found that most of our participants had a positive experience of nature and had a preference for it but there was a mixed response about urban, most of our participants had a neutral to negative response about their experience of urban life. These findings are similar to the Ulrich study but participants seemed more positive about urban life than in the previous study. This was interesting, it may be because we are more used to living an urbanised life now compared to 1981 or that our participants were just generally happier in urban environments than those in the previous experiment.

It was interesting to find out what people thought of our interpretation of the two environments, one person thought the natural scene was disconnected from nature and the urban scene was soothing. These results were unexpected but are a testament to qualitative research methods.


Our experiment could have been improved if we applied more feminist technoscience theory to it. Our study was of two binary options but in reality the distinction between nature and urban is very hazy. We therefore think if we continue this project in future, a way to improve it would be to remove the distinction of the two environments and use a more holistic nuanced approach.

We would also like to improve our prototype experiment with more participants from a variety of environmental backgrounds. We could enhance our findings of the interaction of the participants by inducing VR techniques which will be magnifying the computational experience.


Anon. Research Ready: Phenomenology Research. (Last accessed: 15 Dec 2018)

Ali. R (2010). 3D SuperShapes. (Last accessed: 15 Dec 2018)

Bourke. P (2002). Supershapes (Superformula). (Last accessed: 15 Dec 2018)

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London, Routledge.

Ulrich, R.S (1981). Natural vs Urban Scenes some Physiological Effects. Saga Publications.

Virostek, P (2013). Field Recording from Research to Wrap.