Student researcher studying how spatial design features affect mental and emotional wellbeing

by Mitch Emmons

Learning how building design features can affect the occupant’s mood and psychological health has spurred an Auburn University student researcher to combine her interests in design and architecture into a project that has garnered her an award through AU’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.

Hollen Terry, a senior majoring in global studies in the College of Human Sciences, received the fellowship support for her project, “Optimizing the Restorative Potential of the Italian Renaissance Garden: A Pattern Library.”

Terry said she is interested in the ways that psychological and perceptual factors related to human cognition and social-emotional evolution influence one’s wellbeing in the built environment.

“I have been a student in the College of Human Sciences for the duration of my undergraduate education,” Terry said. “Last year, I took a class in the Environmental Design Department in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction. That piqued my interest in architecture and other spatial design fields.

“I enjoy and greatly value my human science education but decided that I wanted to pursue a career in spatial design, so I translated my human science background into design projects within my sustainability studies and environmental design minors,” Terry said. “I reached out to my now supervising professor, a faculty member in the interior design program of the College of Human Sciences, to inquire about opportunities to synthesize my human science background and spatial design interests. We arrived at this research opportunity.”

Terry began her research by reviewing the literature that has been developed about environmental psychology, history, ecology and design.

“I aligned elements of landscape design to Attentional Restoration Theory [or ART],” Terry said. “I studied landscape elements that were common in gardens of the Italian Renaissance, because our project site is an historic 16-17th century palace in Lazio, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. I aligned these common landscape elements with aspects of ART—a theoretical framework for enhancing the mentally restorative aspects of environments. Historically appropriate landscape elements that intersected with ART were organized into a pattern library which will act as a resource for garden designers who will develop the outdoor space on Auburn University’s campus in Ariccia, Italy.”

The project deliverable is a series of volumes that comprise an anthology reviewing each of the four principles of ART, Terry explained.

“I have organized information into primary, secondary and tertiary elements that can be incorporated into Auburn’s campus in Italy to varying degrees,” Terry said. “The result is an open-ended collection of techniques and materials that is custom-fit to site conditions, historical context, regional ecology and local culture. The collection, when applied in any combination or composition, is designed to promote mental health and restoration for students studying abroad.”

Terry’s project is under the umbrella of Auburn’s study abroad program within the College of Human Sciences. Terry will participate in the program this fall. She is slated to graduate in spring 2022 with a degree in global studies and minors in sustainability studies, environmental design and rural community development. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in interior architecture.

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