URBAN VISUAL ENVIRONMENT AS A SOCIAL FACTOR
Doctor of Biology
Director of Moscow Center "Videoecology"
Ecological problems are not only air and water pollution, but also a pollution of visual environment
in cities and towns which we perceive through our organ of vision, or in other words which we see with
The analysis of urban visual environment showed that there are many straight lines, right angles and
large planes. An eye "does not like" all these elements, because they don't provide proper fixation
of a look after the next saccade. Besides there are many homogeneous and aggressive visual fields in
modern cities and towns.
Visual environment of many cities and towns became worse year after year. Unfavourable visual
environment is one of the factors increasing the number of mental patients, and the number of myopic
schoolchildren. Aggressive visual environment deteriorates morals and provokes a person to aggressive
actions and violence.
Keywords: urban vision environment, vision perception, eye movement, saccades, automatically of saccades.
The visual environment makes a great impact on the people's behavior. Cheerfulness of the citizens
of the South Coast of Hellas, Italy is evidently determined very largely by a comfortable
visual environment. But the most of the present-day cities lack such comfort as their visual
environment does not correspond to the visual norms. The most of the cities have great planes,
monotonous colors, straight lines and right angles, static objects - all these have an
influence on a person, on his visual organ, in particular. A special set of visual elements
and a specific color spectrum creates in cities a visual environment quite different from that
in which a human was formed as a biological species. The problem becomes aggravated as cities
year from year are expanding tearing a human away from the Nature.
Besides, the materials used in constructions less and less resemble natural ones. Unnatural
visual environment of cities influences the city-dwellers' health and their social behavior.
"Plainness will ruin the world" -said F. Dostoevsky. Most of our cities have reached the
limit of plainness. The problem of visual environment has become extremely important.
A scientific trend of the role of visual environment in human life is called
videoecology (Filin V.A., 1989, 1997, 2006).
Automation of saccades as a basis of visual perception
An eye is the most dynamic sense organ never resting at a fix point. It is easy to be sure
if one looks into interlocutor' eyes. There are two basic types of eye movements: slow and
fast. Fast movements are called in scientific literature saccades (originated from the French
term which means "a sail flap"). Saccades of both right and left eyes are absolutely synchronous
and of the same amplitude. They are oriented in the same direction. There are many saccades
- approximately two and more in a second which means that the direction of the look changes
every half second. So the eye is constantly scanning the environment.
The comparison of saccade parameters under different visual tasks shows that-the general number
of saccades do not exceed a definite volume whether the tested person fixes a real or imaginary
object in darkness, draws a definite figure, looks at painting or voluntarily shifts the looks
from one object to another, (Filin V. A., Filina T.F., 1989, 2002). The same situation can be
seen not only in awaken person but in a sleeping one. Moreover, the same quantity of saccades
can be observed in rabbits as well. This phenomenon cannot be considered as an accidental
coincidence. According to the data received in 1987 a concept of
saccades automation was formulated (Filin, 1997, 2002). Automation as a physiological phenomenon
is long ago of common knowledge: heart automation, respiration automation, digestive system
Homogeneous visual environment
Visual environment where visual elements are absent or their number is sharply limited
is called homogeneous. Such environment can appear on different reasons. In persons with
weak vision the number of visible objects in the environment is decreased because of the
reduction in descriptive ability of eyes. Miners find themselves in homogeneous environment
because of unusual conditions of work - black coal is everywhere in a mine.. In nature one
can observe a visual homogeneous environment in the Arctic and Antarctic zones. In present
day a human faces a homogeneous visual environment very often in cities, at home, at
plants and transport.
Homogeneous visual environment in architecture
Under modern industrial methods of
construction in urban environment there appear many
homogeneous visible fields. As a most obvious illustration of that could be bare walls of
the buildings (Fig.1).
When looking at such a bare wall (after a regular saccade) the eye can not find anything to
"catch upon". It means that if a person looks at that wall only for 3 seconds, 6-9 saccades
observe the surface which has no visual elements to fix a look on. That situation can be
compared with a feeling of a man who making the next step does not feel the earth. The same
way for 3 seconds the eye "falls" into the pit for ten times. That situation inevitably
leads to a discomfort.
The Tiananmen Square in Beijing is also an example of a homogeneous field as it has big
dimensions and not many visual objects (two administrative buildings on the right and on
the left, the Mausoleum in front and Gate-tower behind). These objects are away from each
other that do not create a continuous visual environment necessary for a valuable work of
saccades automation. Closed squares have the best visual environment. Such distinctive
feature was noticed by Camillo Zitte a hundred years ago (1993).
So, one might say that visual elements and d?cor of buildings in particular, are of great
importance and one who the first said about "architectural extravagances" has caused to
humanity a great damage. Not only an esthetic aspect that suffered but fundamental processes
of vision were put under threat. It means that it is malignant to be indulged in excessive
glazing of buildings in all climate zones; one must not use big panels, monochrome tapes which
lead to homogeneous visual environment in human habitat. In a chase for new building materials
a human being becomes a victim of his own creation and causes damage to himself. A lot of new
projects from glass and concrete planned with neglect of videoecology are doomed to failure.
Aggressive visual environment
A visual field could be
considered aggressive if it consists of a great number of similar evenly
disposed visual elements. Modern architecture just in most cases creates in cities such visible
aggressive fields. A striking illustration of that could be any typical many-storied building
with a great number of windows on a tremendous wall plane (Fig. 2).
It is impossible to look at the building for a long time - it flickers before the eyes.
A person can not define which window he was looking at before the saccade and on what window he
is looking after the saccade. The number of the windows is so great and they are all similar
and that in essence destroys the main visual function: to give information where the eyes are
looking at and what they see. Nothing of the kind happens in a natural environment where a
person knows exactly on what object his eyes are directed, what size this object has and at
what distance the object is situated. Under that situation a person perceives the natural
When we look at "aggressive building"
our eyes thanks to the saccade automation shift from one
window to another every half second and after every saccade one and the same information: "window",
"window", "window" goes to the brain that inevitably leads to overcharge of identical information
in the brain. In nature, for instance in the forest, after every saccade the brain gets new
"picture". There is no persistent repeat which a person experiences looking at a modern
building. While looking at an old building of luxuriant architecture after every saccade a
new "picture" goes to the brain (Fig.3).
One more example of aggressive
building consisting of a great number of vertical constructions;
there are about 50 of them on the photo (Fig.4).
In that case the eyes can not physically determine what vertical line they look at, as at a
distance of 100 meters on the area of a distinct vision of the eye (about 2 ang./grade)
simultaneously falls two vertical lines. Such intense sensory channel of links stops
working in its initial regime Nature in its evolution evidently did not envisage the fact
that it will deal with aggressive visual fields. While looking at such a building there is
an impression that the architect when finishing the institute together with a diploma got
only one ruler which he uses in his work all his life. The architects evidently have
forgotten about the existence of a pair of compasses. The old architecture had almost
equal number of straight lines and curves. The construction on fig. 4 has no element
that shows its national attribute.
It is easy to come to conclusion: the "architectural extravagances" are necessary and not out
of place. They are functional elements without which the eye can not work properly.
The best architects of the world knew that very well.
Social consequences of unnatural urban visual environment
Any disturbances of living environment inevitably result in negative consequences which
deteriorate human health and social factors. Unfavorable visual urban habitat leads to three
social consequences. They are the following:
- Psychic diseases.
According to the data of World Health Organization the process of urbanization leads to a
steady growth of psychic diseases.
According to some psychiatrists' estimation 80 % of their patients suffer from so called
"syndrome of big city", the main signs of which are: depression, psychic unbalanced state
and aggression. There are grounds to think that the growth of psychic diseases is caused by
unnatural urban visual environment. Aggressive visual fields are strong visual irritants.
In some persons they can provoke epileptic seizure and in the majority of people epileptic
outburst are registered on EEG (Wilkins A.J., 1995). When I have meetings with architects
I used to tell them that if they persist in a modern style building, they should build tenfold
of psychiatric hospitals. The situation is not good for the citizens.
Myopia is the most widespread visual defect. For many countries it became a real social disaster.
Scientists intensively investigate the cause of myopia but up till now they have not found
irrefragable explanation of its mass appearance. We will not analyze all existing theories
and concentrate on a visual environment as one of the causes of myopia. According to our
research homogeneous and aggressive fields in cities create psychic and physical discomfort
and could be one of the causes of widespread myopia in towns.
- A human aggressiveness.
On academic D.S. Likhachev's assertion human aggressiveness is ever growing and in the base of
that, to his opinion, lies the lack of spiritual demands and cultural wealth, which are the sources
of many human vices. At the same time it is known that environment greatly influences a human
behavior. In aggressive visual environment a human often finds himself in the state of motiveless
animosity. As a rule there where the visual environment is worse more violations of the law
happen: huliganism, hard drinking, ribaldry. In Moscow, for instance, criminal situation
becomes worse in direction from center to the outskirts where whole micro-regions consist
of aggressive fields. The growth of human aggressiveness, to our opinion, is considerably
stipulated by the rhythm of signals that come to the inputs of two main sensory systems,
i.e. vision and hearing. To visual input rhythmic signals come from "aggressive fields"
consisting of similar elements or evenly moving mechanisms (transporters, escalators,
conveyer belts, elevators, wheels, chains, pulleys etc) and to the ear signals come from
rhythmic music (rock, "hard metal", favorite of young generation.
In clinics rhythmic light signals are used in diagnostic tests to reveal predisposition to epilepsy.
Epileptic seizures in youngsters happened on disco where rhythmization of auditory and light
signals reached the highest level. An eye-witness told me that a group of youngsters returning
from disco destroyed everything on their way - broke the shop-windows, overturned the cars,
set fire to waste tanks, crashed the trees and so on. At that they wildly screamed and talked
smut. Human aggressiveness was evident.
China thanks to the
millennial Fen-Shui culture has gained a great experience in formation of
favorable visual environment in human habitat. It especially refers to interiors decorated
with Chinese red balls, pictures of dragons and birds. On figure 5 one can see a hotel's hall
perfectly decorated with tiles of different colors and well blended with curves (Fig. 5).
However in the architecture of Beijing there are many buildings - failures in terms of
videoecology. They have a lot of straight lines, right angles and big planes which form
homogeneous and aggressive fields. Just these three elements the eye "does not like".
There are not many such elements in nature, for instance in forests, therefore we all
like the nature. Such elements are rare in old European and Chinese architecture which
we like too. Nowadays in every big city could be found buildings without any curves even in
,A large arch in Paris built
on occasion of 200 years of the Republic (1989) is a striking
example of modern architecture (Fig.6). 500 projects took part in the competition. Why did the
commission choose that project? May be the principal criterion was the number of straight lines?
Sure the arch has no equal by that parameter. But the question is: Do tourists like the
construction? Evidently not so much, as not many visitors are seen there. As to me I will not
go to see it once again, but the Eiffel Tower constructed to the Centenary of the Republic
(1898) I would like to visit not once.
Architects should know that the eyes physically can not stop on the straight line as it has
no fixed points. It should be remembered that the look of the eyes moves every 0,5 sec.
Consequently every building must have enough elements for fixation. A famous artist
F. Hundertwasser once said "Any design based on straight lines is still-born". Unfortunately
in construction the number of straight lines increases which means that the number of
abortive projects rises.
So year from year the urban visual situation becomes worse and worse. The use of a great
number of straight lines, right angles and big planes results in appearance of homogeneous
and aggressive fields which create unfavorable visual environment leading to social
consequences; to growth of psychic diseases, increase of schoolchildren with myopia and
deterioration of human morals. That should know architects, designers, physicians,
psychologists and municipal authorities. In a whole, video-ecology should become a
phenomenon of mass conscience. In that respect China has good conditions as the Chinese
people are aware of and keep the Fen-Shui traditions. Recommendations of Fen-Shui could
be easily explained scientifically from the point of view of videoecology.
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