Yuhan Su

Sensible Nature: to "see" as we once did

This thesis starts with the premise that our growing dependence on tools and digital technologies has led to a gradual decline in our sensory acuity, causing a disconnect between people and nature. To address this issue, the thesis aims to re-establish lost connections by utilizing plant-based sensorial designs that evoke emotions and instincts, reigniting empathy and intimacy with the natural world. By utilizing these strategies, this thesis seeks to enhance our ability to perceive, connect with, and appreciate the world around us, thereby creating a stronger, more intimate relationship between humanity and the environment.


Our brains have evolved to store and process certain types of information that were crucial for survival in our evolutionary past. Ancient hunter-gatherers had to remember the shapes, qualities, and behavior patterns of thousands of plant and animal species to thrive. However, today, the term "Plant Blindness" has been coined to describe the phenomenon of people being unable to notice plants or appreciate their significance. Many individuals today tend to overlook plants in their environment, and this goes beyond a simple biological visual processing preference. It is a sign that people have greater difficulty building intimate bonds with non-human species and the land they inhabit.
The impact of modern tools and digital technologies on our relationship with nature has led to dulled senses and a reduced ability to recognize and engage with the non-human species, causing a disconnection between us and from the natural world. We need to find ways to sense the presence of the world more directly and sincerely.
To redefine vision in design, we need to recognize that our bodies and senses are important tools that can enhance our understanding of space and the natural world. Instead of relying solely on digital technologies, we need to re-embrace the use of our senses, including touch, smell, sound, and taste, to create a multisensory understanding of the spaces we inhabit.


The range of tools and the range of the human senses.

The evolution of tools represents how humans treat the land on which they live. We build connections with the world in between our ways of knowing, from our own senses to manipulating fire, metal, electric, molecules. Interacting with reality is like gazing through a looking glass, close yet still separated.


Plant blindness refers to the phenomenon of individuals being unable to perceive or appreciate the presence and significance of plants in their environment. This can manifest as a failure to recognize the role that plants play in the biosphere and their importance to human affairs. The ranking of plants as inferior to animals, which is often based on anthropocentric biases, can lead to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration. Additionally, plant blindness can result in the inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of the diverse life forms that belong to the Plant Kingdom.


The relationship diagram of the characteristics of plants and human perceptions.

The relationship between the vegetated world and human perceptions. This diagram tries to answer three questions: In what situation will we notice things visually? Why are plants not been seen? In what situation plants will be seen?


When we take a step back and examine the world around us, it's easy to become mesmerized by the sheer diversity of life. From the smallest insects to the largest mammals, every organism seems to possess unique traits and characteristics that set it apart from the rest. However, "we are more alike than we think we are", and this is especially true when it comes to humans and plants.
It may seem as though these two organisms couldn't be more different. One is mobile, while the other is rooted in place. One is capable of complex thought and emotion, while the other operates on instinct alone. But upon closer inspection, we begin to see that there are many similarities that can be drawn between the two.Trees and humans both have complex systems that are integral to their survival. Trees have roots that absorb nutrients and water from the soil, and humans have an intricate network of organs and cells that work together to keep our bodies functioning properly. 
Making the analogy between humans and plants is important because it helps us to recognize the interconnectedness of all living things. Just as plants rely on other organisms in their ecosystem for survival, humans are also dependent on the natural world for their well-being. By recognizing this connection, we can develop a greater appreciation for the environment and take steps to protect it.


Tree & Human Analogy

Trees and humans both have complex systems that are integral to their survival. The analogy between trees and humans serves as a powerful reminder of our shared responsibility to protect and preserve the natural world.


During phase two of my investigation, I shifted my perspective from plants to humans and started to use my body as a measuring tool to investigate the relationships between awareness and the landscape that we are in. By using various methods, such as photography, sound recording, sketching, and tactile exploration, I was able to capture the changes in awareness that occurred as I moved through different environments. By immersing myself in the environment and documenting changes in awareness, I gained a more nuanced understanding of how it impacts our awareness and sense of place.
I noticed that my level of awareness was heightened when I was in a densely wooded area, where the sounds and smells of the forest surrounded me. On the other hand, my senses were dulled when I was surrounded by a bustling cityscape, with the noise and visual clutter overwhelming my senses.
In addition to documenting changes in awareness, I experimented with different methods of representation. I took photographs to capture the visual aspects of the environment, while also creating sketches and models to convey a more tactile or spatial understanding. This approach allowed me to explore the shifting scales of awareness, from the tiny details of plant textures and colors to the larger scale of entire landscapes. By moving between these different scales, I gained a more comprehensive understanding of the relationships between humans and the natural world.
The insights gained during phase two were crucial in developing my design for the next phase. By zooming out and taking a more holistic approach, I was able to develop a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between humans and the environment.


Field observation documentation of street tree canopy and street tree root conditions in pairs.

I took photos of the urban street tree condition and accidentally took a selfie photo that captured the canopy shape of the tree from the bottom up. Then I started to collect these photos in pairs to see the comparison of the tree canopy and the tree roots condition


Behavial awareness documentation mapping in urban and natural landscape.

I use my body as a measuring tool, documenting my awareness in my experimental walks in both urban and natural landscapes, and then use illustrating icons to map out the change of my awareness.


My design inspiration was sparked by a unique perspective that I gained while observing the canopy shape of a tree from the bottom up. It was truly remarkable to see the intricate patterns and shapes created by the tree's branches and leaves from this angle. As I continued to observe the tree, I noticed the reflection of the water puddle on the ground after it had rained, which added another layer of beauty and complexity to the scene.
These two perspectives inspired me to bring together two normally hard-to-notice perspectives on the same surface. I realized that by combining these perspectives, I could create a unique and visually compelling design. This design could be a piece of art that showcases the beauty of nature from an unusual angle or a functional object that incorporates the natural patterns and shapes of the tree canopy.
As I reflect on my design process, I realize that this approach of Multiscale Juxtaposition can be applied to create Methods of Amplification for plants. By bringing together different perspectives and scales, we can highlight the beauty and significance of plants in our environment. My goal is to use this approach to design more methods that encourage people to notice and appreciate the importance of plants in our lives.


Tree canopy and the reflection of canopy in water puddle.

These two perspectives inspired me to bring together two normally hard-to-notice perspectives on the same surface. I realized that by combining these perspectives, I could create a unique and visually compelling design. 


Section diagram of the "Tree Mirror" design.


A little kid looking down into the tree mirror to see the reflection of the tree canopy above her head.


Plan diagram of the "One Tree A Forest" design.


A tree cast shadow on the ground and its image is been reflected by the glass on the wall, people are enjoying the reflecting view of the tree on the wall.


RISD Grad ShowRISD Grad Show

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