Searching for a Therapeutic Utopia

In his book ‘Thinking Architecture’, Swiss architect and Pritzker Prize winner, Peter Zumthor believes that a building’s design should relate directly to our emotions. In recent years, given the rise of mental illness and the increasing instability of the world; a new focus has emerged: to drive integration of mental health into urban design and architecture, and create an emotional living environment.

The world that we are living in is very complex; It is beautiful, progressing and full of wonders, but it’s also violent, filled with anxiety, distress and uncertainty.Living in such a dynamic landscape has its consequences. The attention to mental health has been increased significantly compared to the past. Despite this, statistics show that mental illness is still on the rise.

Oscillating Skyline proposes a poetic design vision that attempts to create some balances for this troubled world.
The installation consists of two parts: a suspended, swinging landscape and an architecture model. The latter functions as a lens through which the audience observes the landscape’s gentle swinging motion, which simulates Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). EMDR is an evidence-based therapy where repeated eye movements from left to right have been shown to banish traumatic memories.
As the audience leans in to peer through the windows, the landscape’s hidden bottom becomes visible. This floating bilateral landscape is a metaphor for the human’s complex mindscape. It is based on Sigmund Freud’s ‘iceberg theory’, where different layers of consciousness are situated within the human’s complicated psyche. The top layer represents the conscious side, while the bottom stands for the subconscious. The internal conflict between them can lead to uncontrollable emotions and behaviours.
The project presents an unrealistic design challenge, one that defies the foundation of architecture and urban planning. Yet, given the current pacing of technology, this poetic vision becomes more realistic than ever. But would we ever go so far as moving the horizon for the sake of mental wellbeing?
Oscillating Skyline is a catalyst for designers in the mental health industry to imagine potential applications for emerging social innovations and technologies. Applications beyond present possibilities, where Design for Inclusivity triumphs against all odds.
It’s important to stress that Oscillating Skyline is by no mean a conceptual architecture proposal, but a notion of a preferable future, an Utopian landscape where design for the greater good triumphs and flourishes. The project envisions future endeavours that the world may undertake for the sake of mental well-being.

Click here to watch the video
Special Thanks
Laurence Symonds, Engineering Support
Neil Shepherd, CNC Modelling
Dr.Shawna Weaver, The College of St. Scholastica
The Anna Freud Center

Nominated for a Helen Hamlyn Center Design Award 2016