Could virtual nature be the next big thing in interior design?

Being in nature for some time – even if it is only a short while—does wonders for the human body, including reducing stress levels. Finnish researchers are taking this field further by recreating experiential spaces that resemble the wild.

Lights, images and sound combine to form an experiential space Metla House, Joensuu. The wooden office building has given birth to many innovations since it was built and this time, it developed a virtual wildlife to test the effects nature has on human health and well-being. It is also a venue for start-ups offering similar ideas to find each other and collaborate on future projects.

“This space is not about rushing in and turning the nature on. It is just another office space, but one where you are exposed to nature and its empowering effects,” Lauri Sikanen, principal scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), said.

LUKE scientists have studied the effects of staying in a virtual nature environment for years.

The virtual technology is not meant to recreate nature but to bring the benefits of nature to offices.

“We know nature supports cognitive performance and recovery from stress, and even watching nature photographs has an effect,” said Liisa Tyrväinen, a research professor who has been studying virtual nature since 2005.

Two virtual nature spaces are currently being planned, one in the lobby and the other in one of the office rooms. They will be built by budding entrepreneurs after workshops and a tendering process.

“We are bringing companies and experts together. Last week, a Portuguese sound system company and sound scientists from the University of Eastern Finland found each other in our workshop,” Sikanen said.

He hopes that these new partnerships will boost Finland’s expertise in virtual nature creation.

The next trend?

It will not come as a surprise if virtual nature becomes a trend in interior decoration soon.

Virtual nature can be applied to a variety of spatial needs, in hospitals, prisons or schools. Even luxury cruises can take travellers to places where the ship cannot access, Sikanen added.

Still, it would take the right companies to combine their skills and create a product easy for the customers to use.

The concept is developing well and Finnish developers are thinking about exporting this technology and idea.

The spaces in Metla House should be ready for testing by fall. The feedback will be analysed and used for further development.

“We have already had a lot of inquiries of when the spaces can be visited. It adds pressure on us,” Sikanen said, clearly pleased.