Monday, December 17, 2012

A View of One’s Own

A question I'm asked fairly often is whether window views make a difference to our well-being. And the answer is a resounding yes!

When I first started doing this research, my partner and I were living in a 400-square-foot studio apartment in Manhattan. The space was cramped and we were considering a move to a one-bedroom place in the same building. However, our studio faced onto a sunny park that bordered the Hudson River, while all the one-bedroom apartments were on the other side of the building, with views of the apartments across the street. Intuitively, despite our desire for a slightly larger living space, we could not give up our view of the park. And when I read all the research, I was glad that we didn’t!

And this past spring, I was teaching a 3-hour university class in a room with no windows. It was unbearable, and rather than staying in that room for the full class, I took my students outside as much as possible, where we sat on the lawn, surrounded by trees, feeling a light breeze and the sun shining down on on our skin. In other classes, one might lose half the students after the break, but whenever we went outside, almost all of them stayed. More importantly, they genuinely listened to and focused on one another when they spent outside together. And they were happy.

If you read my post about blood pressure and nature walks a few weeks ago, you might remember that in the first experiment, participants’ blood pressure increased when they were put in a room with no windows. Here are a few other studies about window views:

Hospital patients with a view of trees recover more quickly
Nearly 30 years ago, in the prominent research journal Science, Roger Ulrich described his discovery that compared to hospital patients whose windows looked onto a brick wall, patients who had a view of trees from their hospital beds:
1)   had a shorter stay
2)   required fewer medications
3)   experienced fewer postsurgical complications

Prison inmates with a view of farm fields use health services less often
A parallel study by Ernest Moore found that prison inmates with a view of farm fields used prison health care services less often than those who looked onto the inner courtyard.

Employees are healthier and happier with a nature view
Rachel Kaplan showed a similar pattern in workplace settings. Employees whose window provides a view of trees or a park are sick less often as well as more satisfied with their jobs compared to their peers without such a view. And Sjerp de Vries and colleagues point to other research about how even pictures of nature can positively influence people’s moods and concentration!

The bottom line
We should be out of doors as much as possible, but our current economic system dictates that many of us spend much of our time working indoors, whether in school classrooms, workplaces, or other institutional spaces. But window views matter. A lot. We should not put up with school classrooms without windows (or very small windows). We should not put up with offices without windows. Universities, hospitals, prisons, and other institutional spaces need to consider this research when designing their rooms.

And in the meantime, if you do find yourself (heaven forbid!) in one of these spaces, bring nature in as much as possible – even if it’s just a few posters of trees, flowers, mountains, or the desert, a jar of rocks, or some dried branches or twigs. And then continue to push for a space with a window view. And go outside as much as possible.

de Vries, S., Verheij, R. A., Groenewegen, P. P., and Spreeuwenberg, P. (2003). Natural environments-healthy environments? An exploratory analysis of the relationship between greenspace and health. Environment and Planning A, 35, 1717-1731.

Kaplan, Rachel. (2001). The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33(4), 507-542.

Moore, E. O. (1981). A prison environment’s effect on health care service demands. Journal of Environmental Systems, 11, 17-34.

Ulrich, Roger S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(4647), 420-421.


  1. I once refused a grade six teaching assignment in a classroom with no windows. I told the principal that I couldn't teach in that room and that I didn't think it was ethical for anyone to be in that room all the time. So, I wasn't in the room. But 60 grade sixes were there that year with 2 teachers, and the year after, and the year after.... I'm absolutely sure we have stronger rules for the environment of animals in a zoo and that we wouldn't cram 60 into a small space without windows. Which says how we think of children in our society. Thanks for this inspiring and important entry Stephanie!

  2. I've had several jobs in small, windowless, airless rooms, and I found I would often feel ill, isolated and stressed in those settings, so I have no doubt about the importance of window views on one's health and happiness. I completely agree that institutions and employers need to consider that when designing spaces.