Forward to nature



#StudioExperimentalDesign #Master-Thesis

«Forward to nature» deals with the influence of humans on their natural environment. In this context the thesis also focuses on the relation between humans and their environment. By examining four shore sections of different waters with anthropogenic characteristics, we analyzed the interaction between humans and the environment in these selected areas. The investigations show a subjective perception and representation of »nature« under the aspect that humans have become the dominant geological factor. This topic is presented in the form of an interactive website.

The relationship between man and the environment is in a critical situation. Environmental pollution, climate change, exploitation of resources and species extinction pose challenges that require a change in attitude.

In an analysis of satellite images, visually recognisable traces of human influences were found on 77% of the Earth's land surface. These so-called cultural landscapes, consisting of industrial areas, cities, agricultural landscapes, are replacing natural habitats. The earth has now become a human system with integrated ecosystems. If we include the gases and dust emitted by humans, there are no longer any real natural landscapes today (cf. Ellis, 2011, pp. 1010-1027). In addition, around 60 % of all plastics ever produced, i.e. 4900 000 000 tonnes, were thrown away. These accumulate in landfills or in the natural environment (cf. Geyer et al., 2017, p. 3).

In this context, we asked ourselves the question: What is the relationship between man and his natural environment? Social and cultural conditions, as well as personal experiences and values, influence the understanding and perception of nature.

For this purpose, four bank sections of different water bodies (limited to an area of about twenty metres in length) with anthropogenic character were experimentally investigated: The Torrente Caramagna in Imperia in Italy, the Birsig in Basel in Switzerland, the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen in Switzerland and the West Lake (Xihu) in Zhejiang in China. The observations on the various sections of the shore were documented in the form of photographs, video and audio recordings.

The interaction of passers-by and tourists on the four predefined shores was investigated by taking photos of tourists and passers-by on the shores, who in turn not only capture these landscapes with their smartphones but also distribute them worldwide on the Internet. Media technology is changing the perception of nature and the individual relationship to it. Computers and mobile phones have become an integral part of everyday life. These pictures we have taken are intended to draw attention to people's behaviour when taking photographs and choosing motifs. Photographs with corresponding motifs of the respective shore, which can be found on Instagram publicly under #Nature (or #Imperia, #Birsig, #Rheinfall, #Westsee), were examined with regard to their representation of nature.

The Instagram images largely show a wonderful natural environment that seems to be free from human influence, just as nature is presented as a spectacular phenomenon in nature documentaries, in advertising or as a backdrop for adventure tourism. This shows the human desire to move in a so-called untouched nature and to create an idealised image of nature. However, the photos do not show, for example, the rubbish, the signs, shore structures, toilet houses etc. that we found on the shore sections on site. The rubbish objects, which also represent a cultural product, were photographed by us directly at their place of discovery and then collected. These photos with the rubbish objects represent sections of these landscapes which are usually not photographed. In the course of this collection, photos of 78 rubbish objects were selected and catalogued. The catalogue is also available as a PDF file for download on the website.

The investigations show the perception of nature from different perspectives, which can be experienced interactively on the website by means of design such as photography, video and text. This offers the possibility to sensitize the recipient to the problematic relationship between man and his natural environment.


Ellis, Erle C.: Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. In: The Royal Society 369 (März 2011), S. 1010-1035. (19.04.2020).

Geyer, Roland, Jambeck, Jenna R., Lavender Law, Kara: Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. In: Science Advances 3 (7) (Juli 2017), e1700782, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782 (20.04.2020).


Susanna Hertrich

, Studio Integrative Design

Dr. Ralf Michel

, Studio Integrative Design

Prof. Dr. Jörg Wiesel

, Institute of Aesthetic Practice and Theory