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A sway­ing land­scape that helps re­store men­tal bal­ance

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A utopia for men­tal health

In the early 20th cen­tury, utopian ar­chi­tec­ture aimed not only to mir­ror the frac­tured com­plex­i­ties of mod­ern life, but to tran­scend them and re­shape the way we live. To­day, we are search­ing for some­thing more in­ward, more in­ti­mate and im­me­di­ate: a way to soothe anx­i­eties and ease the on­go­ing trauma of an er­ratic, vi­o­lent world.

Ex­pe­ri­en­tial de­signer Sam Phong nguyen sug­gests a rem­edy with os­cil­lat­ing Sky­line, a sus­pended scale model of an un­du­lat­ing, tree­less moun­tain­scape. Bathed in soft blue-and-pur­ple light, this panorama rocks hyp­not­i­cally back and forth in front of a viewfinder struc­tured as a doll­size room, com­plete with a tiny fig­ure keep­ing watch at the win­dow. Crouched over to share this fig­ure’s per­spec­tive, the viewer drifts into a penum­bral and strangely alien world, at­ten­tive not so much to the land­scape as to the gen­tle sway­ing mo­tion, which sim­u­lates eye move­ment de­sen­si­ti­za­tion and re­pro­cess­ing ther­apy. This ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der uses lat­eral eye move­ments to trig­ger the brain to process and elim­i­nate emo­tional dis­tress, and is the in­spi­ra­tion for nguyen’s project. con­se­quently, his “utopia of men­tal health” is more about heal­ing than beauty. “The at­ten­tion we give men­tal dis­ease has in­creased, but the rate of men­tal ill­ness is still grow­ing,” nguyen says. “Could it be be­cause of our en­vi­ron­ments? Would we go to the ex­treme of mod­i­fy­ing our sky­lines for the sake of men­tal wel­fare?”

In­tended sim­ply as a “po­etic vi­sion of the fu­ture, where a more open so­ci­ety could de­velop new pos­si­bil­i­ties for men­tal health care,” nguyen’s con­cept is just a model, not an al­ter­nate uni­verse. it does, how­ever, en­cour­age a re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the foun­da­tions of ar­chi­tec­ture – both lit­eral and the­o­ret­i­cal. While mov­ing the hori­zon may be an un­re­al­is­tic de­sign chal­lenge, per­haps it is worth shift­ing our per­spec­tive – to the left and then to the right – to help bring a bit of or­der to an un­bal­anced world.

Daniel Baird, a se­nior edi­tor for the cana­dian en­cy­clo­pe­dia , writes reg­u­larly about art and ideas.

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