The Power of Nature Inside and Out: A Discussion on Using Nature-Based Design to Improve Human Wellbeing at Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium
RIVERWOODS, IL -- Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods welcomed speakers Bill Sturm, Maria Smithburg, and moderator Dr. Martha Twaddle to Healing Spaces at The Smith Nature Symposium.
This conversation examined how we can improve human wellbeing through natural design in our personal and shared spaces. Nature should not solely exist in our forest preserves and parks, but in our homes, businesses, and communities, as natural elements create conditions for good physical and mental health. These health and design leaders came together to share why and how we should incorporate healing natural features into our daily lives and society at large.
“People have always needed nature to grow and to heal, but natural design is even more vital in this new era of Covid-19 where people are suffering from illness, isolation, and economic and emotional hardship. We greatly appreciated these leaders’ insights into how we can use natural elements to improve our wellbeing,” said Catherine Game, Executive Director of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.
Dr. Martha Twaddle is a national leader in the care of the seriously ill and their families and has been a major contributor to the study and implementation of end-of-life care for more than 30 years. She believes that despite all its advances, modern medicine misses the key objective in caring for patients by curing instead of healing. Modern Medicine too often cures ailments by prescribing remedies to one affected area of the body, instead of treating the body, psyche, and soul as a whole and guiding people towards a healing that brings peace in any stage of illness or recovery. From her own experience and research, Dr. Twaddle has come to believe that gardens are powerful tools in furthering healing that are not employed to their greatest capacity. Gardens are particularly effective healing tools because they respond to the fundamental human need for beauty, serenity, community, physical movement, sensory stimulation, and the opportunity for reflection.
This intersection of life that gardens represent helps us to make sense of suffering and come to peace with the cycles of life we experience. Pain, depression, and the agitation of dementia have been shown to lessen with horticulture therapy and images of nature in hospitals can decrease anxiety and improve the ability to cope with pain. While promoting these healing benefits of gardens, Dr. Twaddle advances academic work, including developing curriculum, guidelines, and models of care for healthcare professionals to provide care for the seriously ill in all settings. She also works with others at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine exploring how technology and prescriptive nature can improve health outcomes, as well as collaborating nationally in the development of patient and family-centered quality metrics. In 2013, she was named one of the 30 most influential visionaries in Hospice and Palliative Medicine by nomination of her peers via the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
Gardens are beneficial for all people, not only the sick and suffering. Designing gardens and incorporating them into our physical environment in a way that invites all people and flows with built surroundings is the job of architects and landscape designers. Bill Sturm, cofounder of Serena Sturm Architects, Ltd., is a recognized leader in environmentally sustainable and resource-efficient architectural design and land planning. His practice helped pioneer ecological design in Chicagoland and his firm has managed numerous award-winning projects.
Over Sturm’s 40-year career, he has established a reputation for delivering buildings that meld functionality with beauty and connect the outdoors to the indoors. Sturm has lectured extensively on sustainable design, juried multiple professional awards, and has been featured on the radio, TV, and in print. He is a member of The American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) National Energy Leadership Group and served as the 2014 Chairman of AIA’s National Committee on the Environment Advisory Group. In this position, he advanced the profession’s practice of project performance analysis and strengthened adoption of the AIA 2030 Commitment, which challenges the global architecture and building community to make all buildings carbon-neutral by 2030.
While Sturm primarily uses his architectural expertise to design green buildings for people to live and work in, Maria Smithburg (landscape architect and owner of her own practice, Artemisia), focuses on creating inspirational outdoor spaces by using plants as a living medium.
Smithburg’s interest in art and her architectural background allow her to better understand the relationship between buildings and open space within an artistic context. This artistic side gives her an intuitive ability to unify the garden style to that of the built environment. Smithburg’s enchanting outdoor spaces invite a sense of tranquility that makes it easy for visitors to be present in the moment. Part of the magic of Smithburg’s highly admired residential, commercial, and public gardens is that she uses plants as an ever-evolving tool that shape the landscape and change it over time. Her gardens go through transitions with the seasons and years – just as humans do – and she must visualize these transformations years in advance.
Smithburg has been running Artemisia since 1992 and works on gardens in the Chicago area, as well as in Harbor County, Michigan. Her academic pursuits involve previously teaching landscape design theory at the University of Illinois in Chicago and garden design courses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She received her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Buenos Aires and her Masters in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University. She currently serves on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Stewardship Council where she extends her passion for connecting people to natural places.
All funds raised from the Symposium directly support Thrive Together, Brushwood Center’s COVID-19 crisis response for a more just and sustainable future. All presentations were available in English and Spanish.
To learn more about the series visit www.smithnaturesymposium.org.
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This blog is written by the staff and partners of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods