This thesis explores how do western people today experience wild nature and how can we use the knowledge about nature experience in designing structures that frame our experience – paths. I focus on path design in the national parks – the environments where we can come in contact with what might be called wild nature in today’s western countries the most. I chose the NP Utrechtse Heuvelrug as my case study site for design, since the aesthetic experience of nature in the national park Utrechtse Heuvelrug is limited; mainly by (1)fenced and restricted nature areas and abundance of fencing next to the paths, (2) pragmatically designed straight paths that do not take into account the multi-sensory aesthetic experience of nature, and (3) highways and roads cutting through the national parks. The general problem is that the design of trails is predominantly ocularcentric, which is limiting since the experience of nature is not only visual but it is a multi- sensory experience of an environment. The aim of this thesis is to find out how to design a trail for all the senses. The knowledge gap consists of (1) a missing link between the knowledge on nature experience produced mainly by other disciplines and its practical applicability in the field of landscape architecture (how can be existing knowledge translated in design guidelines and principles), and (2) lacking study of existing design approaches of national parks meant to enhance the visitors’ experience of nature.
A literature study of nature experience in the context of the 21st century in Western culture is presented resulting in the definition of natural experience of nature, that is the undisturbed free discovery of the multi-sensory abundance of nature’s time-space. This definition is further used both as a source of guidelines for designing and at the same time evaluation criteria for designs. Existing approaches to provide nature experience in NP of North-Western Europe are studied, described and evaluated through the theoretical guidelines/criteria, and further used as a source of inspiration in the design process.