Therme Art Program

Wellbeing Culture Forum | Art and Architecture as Healing

Therme Art presents Art and Architecture as Healing: Shaping a Mental Health Economy talk at Design Miami/ Basel 2021 to discuss architecture’s potential as a medium to create realities where healing is prioritised.

Taking inspiration from Shy Synchrony, an installation created by Dutch artist duo DRIFT, situated within Forest of Space, an elliptical site-specific pavilion designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the talk will explore the fundamental re-contouring needed at the levels of policy, design, community engagement, environmentalism, and urban planning in the construction of environments that heal rather than constrain. The current infrastructure has perpetuated an economy that promotes the exact opposite of healing: isolation, divisiveness, exhaustion, and fear. Art, architecture and cultural production were introduced as resources that hold the power to create physical spaces in which mental health becomes a priority.

Created by DRIFT for Design Miami/ Basel 2021, and presented by Superblue in collaboration with Therme Mind, Shy Synchrony is a poetic, upside-down landscape of moving Shylights perpetually blooming in mid-air, that invited visitors to contemplate natural rhythms and their soothing effect on our state of being. The site-specific installation provided visitors a moment of synchrony with their immediate surroundings. In a time that is defined by human isolation and a disconnect from nature, DRIFT’s practice aims to address the need for a new alignment with our environment and a return to the strength of communal interaction. Shy Synchrony explores our innate response, individually and collectively, to natural movements, creating a deepened sense of awareness for the singular qualities of all environments we traverse. By integrating nature’s sublime beauty into built environments, both works provide visitors with a mentally regenerative experience that allows them to meditate on what it means to be a part of a whole. As we venture onward into the re-shaping of public life for the better, this collective sensibility will ensure that public spaces are built with inclusivity in mind.

Meditation Guide, Franziska Kessler

 The panel started with a meditation session led by Meditation Guide, Franziska Kessler

The quality of our mental health has largely been understood as the culmination of our genetics, socio-economic background, exposure to trauma, and intrapersonal relationships. Although these factors are crucial in explaining various mental conditions, the architecture of the spaces we move through and inhabit also plays an integral role in our access to emotional wellbeing. It is scientifically proven that our feelings and energy levels are directly influenced by the spaces we build. The effect of a room composed of sharp, angular corners will differ from that of a dome-shaped architecture with no edges in sight. Similarly, the emotions aroused from wandering into a forest will drastically differ from the ones that course through us as we strut through a busy city intersection. Although mentally rejuvenating built architectures exist, nature’s immediate effect on our neuroplasticity is difficult to be matched. This fact evidences the urgent need to use nature and biomimicry as a blueprint for redesigning spaces that contain the preconditions necessary for improved wellbeing. The pay-off of this new approach to urban planning wouldn’t only help counter common, contemporary neurological disorders such as anxiety and depression, but also aid in the healing of our planet that has, for far too long, been the scapegoat of our inability to sit with our emotions.

Panellists under DRIFT’s Shylights, facing visitors

Mental health plays an intimate roll in the betterment of our lives, our bodies, and our planet. Without a healthy relationship internally, it will be nearly impossible to reflect empathy to others, and nurture our external reality. In thinking about the biological elements of the psyche, it is important to become familiar with the science of neurobiology and how it can contribute to more intuitive social and physical architectures. By absorbing the knowledge of scientific experts and applying it to our design and building processes, we can begin to observe how to better meet our collective’s mental health needs. What healing solutions should we implement to improve our building processes? Can an economy in which mental health is a priority be reimagined and reconsidered? Featuring practitioners in the fields of neurobiology, architecture, art, and design, Art and Architecture as Healing: Shaping a Mental Health Economy centred on architecture’s potential as a medium to improve mental health, deepening the connection humans have with themselves, each other, and the environment.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Director of Serpentine Galleries co-moderating the talk

Co-Moderator and Artistic Director of Serpentine, Hans Ulrich Obrist, opened the panel discussion by introducing guest panelists and their backgrounds.

Torkwase Dyson, Interdisciplinary Artist

Interdisciplinary Artist, Torkwase Dyson, spoke about the inevitability of confronting current architectural preconditions that continue to hinder us in our pursuit of achieving wellbeing for all:

“Time only exists because of a relationship to heat and friction and movement. And if we start thinking about architecture, this idea of otherwise really brings us to things that are not necessarily about the measure of time, but the confrontation with the indeterminable.”

Artist Lonneke Gordijn from DRIFT 

DRIFT Artist Lonneke Gordijn commented on the process of creating Shy Synchrony and its implications behind building and creating nurturing structures:

“We have created an environment that is without nature. I think that we use technology as a learning tool to try and figure out to what extent we can respond to it in an emotional way. In a way, it can bring me the feeling and emotion that I’m looking for when I don’t get it from a specific environment. Therefore, I use it to create spaces that feel natural.”

Pictured from left to right: Interdisciplinary artist, Torkwase Dyson; Neuroscientist, Olaf Blanke; Director of Serpentine, Hans Ulrich Obrist

In speaking of MindMaze and its capacity to create wellness environments, Neuroscientist Olaf Blanke commented:

We have used actual technology to reconnect with our body in a different way—using MindMaze virtual reality and other forms of technology to reconnect, maybe at a distance, with our body, with new forms of mirrors mediated through technology.”

Precious Okoyomon, Artist and Poet

“There are few spaces in the world where you’re allowed to actually grab yourself for a moment of rest and peace because of the world’s constant ferocity and the way in which it moves. So, I’m always trying to think of these portal spaces that you can find yourself in the world, but also out of time,” reflected Poet and Artist, Precious Okoyomon.

Franziska Kessler, Meditation Guide

Meditation and Wellness Guide and Professional, Franziska Kessler, emphasised the importance of breathing techniques and grounding practices throughout the week, and how without this mind to body alignment should be accessible in the infrastructures we create.

“When we have meetings in hostile environments, the energy in the room tends to exhaust itself. We often forget the fact that we all came together to create something in the first place. What we are planning on doing now, is to incorporate breathing rooms into our buildings.”

Panelists pictured together: Mikolaj Sekutowicz, Franziska Kessler, Precious Okoyomon, Lonneke Gordijn, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Torkwase Dyson, Olaf Blanke


Key Questions

1. What healing solutions can we implement to improve our building processes?

2. How can the programming of experiences within built environments focus on nurturing mental health?

3. Can an economy in which mental health is a priority be reimagined and reconsidered?

4. How can we begin to build environments that cooperate with our need to improve mental health on a collective scale?

5. Can mental health disorders truly be tackled without the implementation of change in the ways we co-create our environments?

6. What current architectural codes and standards stand in direct opposition to our access to wellbeing?


Lonneke Gordijn, Artist, Co-Founder of DRIFT
Olaf Blanke, Founding director of the Center for Neuroprosthetics at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Precious Okoyomon, Poet and Artist
Torkwase Dyson, Interdisciplinary Artist
Franziska Kessler, Designer, Meditation and Wellbeing Professional


Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine)
Mikolaj Sekutowicz (CEO and Curator, Therme Art)

Learn more about Therme Mind and Superblue’s activations at Design Miami/ Basel 2021.

In the News

“Studio Drift and Sou Fujimoto explore rhythms of nature with Basel installation”
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In partnership with

Serpentine Galleries