Mei-Feng Lin (MA Narrative Enviroments CSM student) writes about her recent collaborative project in Bank Station that received support from the Post-Grad Community Project fund.
Welcome to the Bank National Park
Are You Ready for the Rush Hour?
With the rapid growth of human activities, built environments are taking more and more spaces of natural environments. According to the World Health Organisation, 60% of the world’s population will live in a city by 2030. As the urbanisation pressures have been stronger, city life is associated with higher rates of mental illness, including depression.
Living in one of the busiest cities, London commuters have become the ‘most anxious people in the UK’. People struggling most with their mental health in the capital are the ones who must commute into the city. As an enclosure environment, London underground system can be a nightmare for commuters, especially people who suffer from claustrophobia and anxiety.
I am intrigued by this fact which reflected my personal experience taking the tube to work. I found the London underground system is an extremely cramped space for overloaded crowds during the rush hour. It was an unforgettable experience for me, and I believe that more people are suffering from worse situation every day.
Therefore, my research question was:
’Can the stressful daily commute become a moment of mindfulness relaxation?’
As ‘natural’ is commonly used as mental therapy, research suggests several ways to increase nature-induced well-being, even in cities. I would like to combine the existing environment with various senses of natural elements, creating a comprehensive fresh travelling experience. To create a better experience for London commuters, a hiking journey is brought into the Bank Station. This project is about creating an unexpected and joyful experience in our dull and tedious daily life with a serious of mental therapies applied in a concealed way.
I imagined it would not only be an immersive environment to create some ‘wow’ moments, but also a project to raise the awareness of the mental illness. Sometimes it is easy to ignore our bad emotions unconsciously; however, it could be something dire. Through this project, I wanted to make the daily commute a different experience, also provide the relevant knowledge for facing our anxiety, assisting the audience find the right places to ask for help.
To answer the research question, a final event was held on site. A performance was played in the train carriages, bringing the plants, the singing of birds and the scented air into the stressful environments. With people who dressed up as the 'Bank National Park Rangers', we introduced the passengers to this imaginary national park. Relevant information was handed out as a guiding map, providing them with the information for facing our anxiety, assisting the commuters to find the right places to seek help.
We have also transformed a news box into the Visitor Centre of the Bank National Park. Sitting on the platform, this small shop serves an essential part of Londoners' daily commute. With the decoration of plants, a diffuser, a camping lamp, a small sign and the graphic design, it has become a refreshment in the London Underground station.
There were many 'WOW' moments when the commuters interact with the interventions.
People were surprised by the brand new shop.
One customer said: 'This is really good', and another said: 'It's lovey! It makes me feel like I am in a forest!'.
It was also an exciting moment when a gentleman said: 'Seeing plants put smiles on your face.'
Passengers in the train carriage also showed the interests, sharing their positive feelings of this concept.
'OMG! This is amazing ma'am.'
'And you're also making her(the shop owner) day as well!'
'They asked ''Where is your garden today?'' - Kirat, the shop owner
'We were just talking about how depressed we feel when taking the London underground'
'I would like to see this every day on my way to work.'
After the event, the shop owner, Kirat, indicated that her business has improved during the event as more people came to buy something because of the plants. Some of the customers came back the next day and asked 'Where is your garden today?' To increase the selling of the shop was not in the plan, but it was amazing for me to see such a positive impact on our collaboration.
With this event, I was able to not only gather people's reaction but also had the chance to hear their own stories. It was such a valuable experience hearing people's feedback and seeing their smiles. I believe our daily commute can be a more pleasant journey. And I hope this project has showed the possibilities that we can make a difference in this city.
Mei-Feng Lin is exhibition designer specialising in spatial and visual design for exhibitions and events, collaborating with museums, galleries and government departments. She has a strong interest in exploring the relationships between people and the environment, focusing on the emotional cognition among user experiences.
Post-Grad Community supports student led projects through the Post-Grad Community Project Fund