This is Your Brain in Parks

David H. Koch Plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. OLIN/ Sahar Coston-Hardy

What is it about a park that is soothing? Does it vary by person? Does it vary by park? Could design actually promote contemplation and calmness? These are questions that Agnieszka Anna Olszewska, a doctoral candidate in landscape architecture and urban ecology at the University of Porto in Portugal, sought to discover.

Earlier this year, she released a conference paper titled “Urban Planning, Neurosciences and Contemplation for Improving Well-being in Our Cities.” The paper documented a pilot project she developed “to prove that there are certain characteristics of urban parks and gardens that can induce…brain activity that is associated with contemplative or meditative states.”

The study asked a panel of four design experts to analyze a series of 50 images from urban parks in France and Portugal, rating design features and landscape elements that produced a calming, contemplative effect. The settings that ranked highest had a similar set of characteristics, with long-distance views (more than 400 meters), panoramic vistas, large empty spaces, clearings and natural asymmetry. The settings ranked lowest were generally enclosed spaces, pocket gardens and paths.

Of the original 50 images, Olszewska selected a set of 15 that were deemed “most contemplative.” She showed these images to subjects in the study and recorded their brain waves by electroencephalography (EEG). The resulting brain activity showed patterns of calmness similar to those documented during meditation.

The idea that the brain can show how we feel in different landscapes is truly fascinating…an intriguing tool that can guide us in our pursuit of transformative and beautifully designed spaces. While this type of research is still in its infancy, with Olszewska stressing that it was merely “proof of concept,” this study is laying the foundation for the quantitative understanding of our complex relationships, cultural biases and innate reactions to nature and the built environment.

Metropolitan Museum’s New David H. Koch Plaza is Now Open to the Public

© Metropolitan Museum of Art

© Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two-year Renovation Project Transforms Plaza along Fifth Avenue Into Welcoming Entry for the Museum’s More than Six Million Annual Visitors

Presidio Parklands Unveiled

It’s been a busy week at OLIN—in addition to the grand opening of Dilworth Park in Philadelphia yesterday, an OLIN team was also on hand in San Francisco for the public reveal of our team’s vision for the new Presidio Parklands. This tabula rasa promontory, which will be created by a major highway tunnel project between the historic Presidio of San Francisco and Crissy Field, will link together two distinctly different yet vital landscapes and will provide an unprecedented viewscape to landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid. Each of the five finalists in this competition presented their designs to a packed house at the Presidio, the launch of a two-month public engagement process.

OLIN’s design, titled YoUr Gateway Park, draws its primary inspiration from the site’s undulating topography, working with the winding bluffs to carve out a variety of social, cultural, and educational zones. This approach also highlights key points of orientation to nearby landmarks and delineates clear circulation routes throughout the park. Within the U zones, architects Olson Kundig weave in sculptural yet delicate structures which provide shelter as well as event and service space. The team also took advantage of the negative space around the U’s to weave a diverse, natural landscape, creating not only a valuable amenity for humans but also an ecologically rich, native habitat for local flora and fauna, a collaborative vision with ecologists Biohabitats. The team’s other specialty consultants include Heritage Landscapes for historic preservation, Local Projects for interpretive design, and the Natural Learning Initiative for family-friendly design and engagement.

OLIN’s full competition scheme is available at the New Presidio Parklands website.

Dilworth Park Opens Today

Dilworth Graphic_final_sizedforblog

Dilworth Park, Philadelphia’s grand new centerpiece of transit, culture, history, and civic pride opens today. OLIN worked with a world-class, multidisciplinary team of architects, engineers, and design specialists to completely transform this three-acre plaza in the heart of Center City, at the foot of Philadelphia’s historic City Hall. Over more than half a decade, the design team devised an elegant vision for Dilworth Park, which honors the iconic edifice of City Hall, celebrates the site’s role as a nexus of public transit, and accommodates a vibrant diversity of programming, bringing life to what had long been a lost corner of the city grid.

The three-day celebration of Dilworth Park began today with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony headlined by the honorable Mayor Michael Nutter. Festivities continue on Friday with an all-day picnic lunch and live music, and Saturday rounds out with a family playtime event. More event schedules and specials are featured at, and follow @theOLINstudio on Twitter and @olininsta on Instagram for live coverage of the opening festival.

For more information, check out the full press release from the Center City District.

Next Stop: Dilworth Park

Philly celebrates the grand opening of Dilworth Park with a three-day festival, starting Thursday, September 4th. Check out the Dilworth Park website for more information on all the opening events.

Prep the Presses: Presidio Parklands Public Presentation

Preview of the OLIN team's concept for the new Presidio Parklands

Preview of the OLIN team's concept for the new Presidio Parklands

Now say that five times fast.

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s John King reported this week, the Presidio of San Francisco is set to unveil the five finalist designs for the site, recently dubbed the Presidio Parklands, that will become a new gateway between Crissy Field and the historic fort. OLIN led a team of nationally renowned experts in architecture, ecology, cultural landscapes, interpretive design and family engagement for their submission. The public reveal is happening next Thursday, September 4th and will be followed by an extensive public engagement process.

OLIN Celebrates Parks and Recreation Month

"Toronto Island Park is one of my absolute favorites. My family and I love taking the ferry from downtown Toronto to this beautiful vast island park filled with trails, beaches, and wonderful activities." - Sahar Coston-Hardy / Photographer, OLIN

"Toronto Island Park is one of my absolute favorites. My family and I love taking the ferry from downtown Toronto to this beautiful vast island park filled with trails, beaches, and wonderful activities." - Sahar Coston-Hardy / Photographer, OLIN

Did you know? July is Parks and Recreation Month, and OLIN has been celebrating on Instagram with shots of our staff’s favorite parks around the world! Here are just a few of the contributions, and follow @olininsta on Instagram to see more!

Richard Roark on Hunts Point Lifelines, Tonight at AIA New York’s Center for Architecture

Richard Roark, on site at the City Branch, an abandoned rail line now overtaken by nature in the heart of Philadelphia.

Richard Roark, on site at the City Branch, an abandoned rail line now overtaken by nature in the heart of Philadelphia.

Tonight at the AIA New York Chapter’s Center for Architecture, Partner Richard Roark joins a distinguished panel for Landscape on the Front Lines: Resiliency begins on Site. As we come to recognize the effects that climate change, storm events, and other natural occurrences have on our man-made systems, landscape architects are leading the charge to better understand the ever-changing relationship between nature and cities and work across disciplines to develop resilient solutions. Richard will be presenting Hunts Point Lifelines by OLIN/PennDesign, one of six winning proposals for HUD’s Rebuild By Design Competition.

Reframe Issue 1 is Here

crowd reframe

Issue 1 of Reframe, OLIN’s new digital magazine, launches today at In our inaugural issue, we’re talking resiliency—not just in terms of climate change, but to quote Henk Ovink: “it’s about jobs, quality of life, open space, global commerce, clean air, and water.”

This issue of course, comes on the heels of the historic Rebuild By Design competition, from which six proposals, including PennDesign/OLIN’s Hunts Point | Lifelines, were selected to help ensure a more resilient future for our mid-Atlantic coastal cities. We sat down with Henk himself, engage with the community of Hunts Point, and speak with two photojournalists who documented the effects of Sandy. But we must also recognize that resiliency is a challenge across our country and indeed the world. Reframe’s contributors explored issues and successes in the Midwestern US and the drought-stricken West Coast. We hope that these stories inspire consideration and conversation on how to build a truly sustainable future.

Hunts Point | Lifelines Proposal Wins Rebuild By Design Competition


The Hunts Point | Lifelines proposal has been selected as one of six competition winners for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild By Design Competition. The project, developed by by the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and OLIN, has been selected to receive $20 million of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding.