Beauty and the beast: confronting contrasting perceptions of nature through design

Moxon, Sian (2020) Beauty and the beast: confronting contrasting perceptions of nature through design. In: Animal Gaze Constructed, 06-07 March 2020, London Metropolitan University.


Nature elicits potent, contrasting emotions in us, from love and awe to fear and loss of control. As we become increasingly urbanised, we are distancing ourselves from wildness: 83% of UK children cannot identify a bumblebee and most adults no longer notice plants. When we encounter less of the wild world in our daily lives, we can forget its joys and fixate on its threats, from pests to untidiness. But renouncing nature is the real danger when it is proven to be good for us, boosting our wellbeing through both its restorative effects and its stresses.

Urban gardens should be spaces to reconnect with nature, but residents are replacing greenery with hard surfaces to suppress the natural. There is an urgency to rewild domestic gardens to make space for wildlife, which is facing alarming decline from rural pressures, and enable city dwellers to experience nature’s benefits. However, problems identified with rural rewilding, such as challenging aesthetics and fear of wild animals, are heightened in urban contexts with their greater population density, and expectations of tidiness and safety.

‘What solutions can design offer to make rewilding attractive to urban residents?’. This is explored through a practice-based case study, Rewild My Street, a campaign to persuade suburban Londoners to adapt their gardens for wildlife. An architectural design process was used to develop presentation techniques to help residents visualise the advantages of rewilding their streetscape, select contextual wildlife products for a suburban setting and propose design solutions to address residents’ concerns.

The resulting imagery deliberately paints an idealised, tamed vision of nature in suburbia that is neat, aesthetically pleasing and unthreatening. This arguably deceptive use of design is regretfully deemed necessary to serve a worthy aim for city residents to immerse themselves as much in nature’s frisson of danger as in its tranquillity.

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