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PROBLEM OF ECOLOGY OF URBAN VISUAL ENVIRONMENT
Ladies and Gentlemen,
According to our data visual environment of many cities is becoming worse year after year.
It is a result of change of the constructive elements used in architectural objects such as:
residencies, offices, industrial buildings, schools, hospitals and so on.
The new scientific trend concerning visual environment we termed VIDEOECOLOGY. Videoecology
is the science of interarelation between a human being and visual environment (Filin, 1989,
I'm a physiologist, a doctor of biology. I graduated from Moscow State University, department
of biology. At the University I, my friend Zanin and a Chinese student Li lived together
in one room in a university hostel. It was the time of the best relations between our
countries. Then, some years ago a daughter of a famous Chinese Communist Van Minin has been
working for some time in my laboratory. Those were my personal relations with China.
We came up to the problem of videoecology after 40 years studying visual perception mechanisms,
in particular the mechanism of human eye movements. So I begin my report from the data of eye
For eye movements registration we used photoelectronic device.
The photoelectronic devise
The recording of eye components demonstrates that the eye movement consists of slow and fast
components. Fast eye movements are called SACCADES. There are about two saccades per second.
Saccades are generated automatically.
The recording of eye components
THE AUTOMATICITY OF SACCADES is involuntary eye movements taking place every 0,2-0,6 seconds.
The rhythm of saccade movements depends on brain structures activity. The automaticity of saccades is similar
to automation of breathing or that of a heart. The full concept of saccades automaticity is set out
in our monograph "Automaticity of saccades", published in Russian in 2002.
It was theoretical part of my report. Now I'm moving to the ecology of urban visual environment.
What are those problems which worry city dwellers? Naturally they are general problems of
ecology, the pollution of visual environment among them. The main causes of urban visual
environment pollution are homogeneous and aggressive visual fields.
The visual environment fields, having no visible elements or possessing a very small number
of them, are called HOMOGENEOUS VISUAL FIELDS.
The homogeneous building
A wall of homogeneous visual field is plane, smooth, flat. A man's eye has nothing "to catch"
on this huge bare wall. Having approached to it an inhabitant can see nothing but his own
shadow and only in sunny weather. There are no other visible elements on this wall. It's
quite evident that it causes psychological discomfort. What happens to the eyes and
especially to saccades in this case? Some changes happen to them.
We saw these changes in the recording of eye movements in the darkness while fixing a
luminous point and after it is switched off. As soon as a luminous point is switched off,
i.e. point of support is moved off, the saccade amplitude sharply increases. It happens
so because in disorientated space the eyes turn to a search regime. They look for something
"to catch on" in the darkness, but find nothing.
The same situation arises under urban conditions when a person's glance comes across a bare
concrete or glass wall. Such "glasses" we can see practically in every city. Bare planes
and straight lines make impossible the fixation of a sight after a saccade. But saccades
still arise in their turn, and after half a second an eye will look at another bare place.
Our data and literary sources convincingly show that a long stay of a person in homogeneous
environment disturbs automaticity of saccades. In particular, automaticity of saccades is
disturbed in eyes of a miner working in mines for a long time and in babies eyes when they
are kept in blackout conditions. Automaticity of saccades of weak-eyed persons also changes.
Eye movement recording while fixing a still point by weak-eyed patient
(the patient is a woman 61 years old; her visual acuity is 0.3 for the right eye and 0.02
for the left eye, the vision is reduced within 4 years)
In a recording of eye movement of weak-eyed woman the most part of saccades is oriented in
one direction. For a long time the woman did not see small elements and her visual
environment was homogeneous. Such visual environment was the reason of the disturbance
of automaticity of saccades and changed orientation of saccades.
So, every time when a person stays in homogeneous visual environment (in case of weak-eyed
persons, blindness, work in mine or staying in blackout conditions) an impairment of
automaticity of saccades takes place.
A visual field consisting of a lot of visual elements evenly distributed on some surface
is called an AGGRESSIVE VISUAL FIELD.
A typical example of an aggressive visual field consists of a lot of identical black spots
or of many identical lines. It's difficult and unpleasant to look at it - one feels dazzled.
These were the tests, which had been used in our researches, but we can see these visual
fields in a city.
"Russia" hotel in Moscow was very good example of an aggressive visual field. There were
eight hundred windows on its wall. The great number of identical windows created typical
aggressive field. An eye "didn't not know" what window it was looking at. Visual
communicational channel stoped working in its usual way.
The "aggressive" building
Nothing like that happens in natural visual environment, for example, in a forest where
an eye "knows for sure" what it is looking at and what it sees.
The nature is comfortablle visual environment
Some buildings can be an example of an aggressive visual field, consisting of vertical lines.
It is very unpleasant for a person to look at such aggressive field at an angular, because
binocular vision doesn't work properly under such conditions, it means that it's impossible
to merge images received by the right and the left eye into a single one. Usually a
person feels bad, turns his face away from such objects and he is right. By the way
the advertisement "Stop, don't look at!" can be placed over the object.
In case a person looks at a bare wall very small amount of impulses is coming into a brain,
and while in case of aggressive field the amount of impulses is large. Why is it so? There
are very many contrasting edges in this building. In this situation eye retina photoreceptors,
in particular on- and off-systems are strained.
This current of impulses reaches visual centres of a brain and really "bombard" them, but
the matter is that this current of impulses doesn't contain much information. The given
picture is clear at a glance, and the contradiction is: the current of impulses is large,
but there is not much information in it. This is an example of useless work of a brain.
In a map of prestige levels of Moscow districts, made by psychologists as a result of
Muscovites opinion poll, we can see that all new Moscow districts are painted black and
considered to be not elite. Mainly in these districts visual environment is unnatural, and
consists of a great number of homogeneous and aggressive visual fields.
A man can see many aggressive fields looking from high floors. According to the information
submitted by psychologists on the basis of poll results in the new districts, 72% of their
inhabitants would like to leave these districts, and 35% don't like those ones. Of course,
it's difficult to become fond of a district, consisting of aggressive fields.
You can come across the same situation not only in Moscow but also in any big city all over
the world. This is the view of the city of Seattle. A great number of skyscrapers create
aggressive fields of different sizes and raster pattern with almost no check points for eye
fixation after saccade.
Organ of vision is a basic sensoric channel through which a human being gets 80% information
about environment, but being surrounded by aggressive fields this power channel of
communication almost stops normally working.
Many vision mechanisms such as: saccadic automation, binocular apparatus, on- and -off-systems,
accommodation, etc. can not work properly in aggressive visual field. If some mechanisms of
vision can not work properly, we can affirm that aggressive visual field doesn't correspond
to norms of vision at all. More over we can affirm that it is NOT BEAUTIFUL.
What are social consequences of unfavourable urban visual environment?
We usually point out three main consequences:
- Mental diseases.
Urbanisation leads to steady growth of mental diseases. In psychiatrists' opinion 80%
of their patients suffer from the so-called "syndrome of a big city", main symptoms of
which are dismal mood and mental instability. Unfavourable visual environment also makes
its contribution and in our opinion a considerable one to the complex of factors impairing
The number of myopic persons in cities is greater than in villages. In our opinion
unfavourable visual environment is one of the factors leading to eye refraction changes.
- Mankind aggressiveness.
In aggressive visual environment a person often stays in the state of groundless exasperation.
As a rule the worse visual environment the greater the number of delicts - hooliganism,
alcoholism, blackguardism. In Moscow, for instance, criminal situation is getting worse
from the centre to suburbs where the entire districts consist of aggressive fields.
Hotel "Intourist" was demolished in Moscow. This building could stay more than 100 years, but
it was demolished only because of its visual characteristics. According to press the demolition
and the construction of new hotel losts about 136 million US dollars. This is our price
for infringement of the basic laws of videoecology.
To our regret just now thousands designers are doing the same projects, both in Russia and
in other countries. We can see it with our own eyes in Paris (France), in England (London),
in Stockholm (Sweden), in Barcelona (Spain), in Moscow (Russia), in Delhi (India).
What are the reasons of the deterioration of visual environment of our cities and towns?
We guess there are four of them:
- Revolutionary ideas both in society and architecture
- Fast growth of cities and building industry
- Artistic position of architects. Nobody could force architects to build as they used to,
if it don't correspond to their own artistic position
- Belated appearance of videoecology.
We believe that the significant impairment of urban visual environment could have been
prevented, if the videoecology had appeared some years earlier and had indicated the
negative processes in urban visual environment creation.
But industrial building has been taking place for more than 80 years, meantime videoecology
as a field of science appeared 17 years ago (V.A.Filin, 1989).
The problem of videoecology is set out in our monograph "Videoecology. Good and bad for eye".
It was published in Russian and in English. The book caused vivid interest of specialists
in various scientific fields and of architects. The third edition was published in Russian
In 1968 famous artist F.Hundertwasser appeared naked in Vienna's street protesting
against constructivistic architecture. His action had attracted attention to this
problem, but it had not changed the procession. Hunderwasser's protest was on the emotion
level. Now we have scientific data showing us that modern architecture does not correspond
to norms of vision.
Hundertwasser said: "Any design based on straight line is abortive". Unfortunately there are
abundance of straight lines, right angles and huge planes of homogeneous or aggressive appearance
in the modern architecture. It creates uncomfortable urban visual environment.
This building constructed by F.Hundertwasser provokes discussion among architects,
but it corresponds to norm of videoecology by presence of visible details and colour.
A famous sculpture "Laokoon and his sons" of Greek masters brightly expressed death of
Laokoon and his sons from suffocating snakes. In our days those outstanding sculptors
could have been changed the snakes by aggressive houses. Such houses like poisonous
snakes are suffocating all of us. We are to with all responsibility to claim to
architects: "We must positively say to architects: "Stop! It's impossible to build
in such a way any longer!"
A city is created for people. Its beauty has to make us happy. Urban visual environment
has to be comfortable. We must build cities on the basis of new scientific achievements,
on the basis of videoecology. A person can be happy and healthy in a visually comfortable city.
I'd like to finish my lecture on optimistic note. There are houses in various parts of the
world those are built on norms of vision, without any straight line, with only curved lines
like in nature. These houses are in harmony with nature.
Visually comfortable building
I'd like to say about the project called "The stone flower". It fully corresponds to
norms of videoecology. Such buildings could create comfortable visual field in a city.
It could be a city-garden. I believe our cities have to be beautiful gardens and people
will be happy and healthy in those cities.
Architectural project of visually comfortable building