OPENspace is an international research centre contributing new evidence on why inclusive access to the outdoors matters. We are a collaborative, multidisciplinary group with researchers in Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Heriot-Watt University.

Our team draws on the collective expertise of specialists in landscape architecture, environmental psychology, human geography, forestry, quality of life measures and design for all ages and abilities. We focus on the benefits to be gained from getting outdoors and the barriers currently experienced by different users.

OPENspace research addresses the full spectrum of open space environments, from city parks and squares to remote rural landscapes. Our vision is for access to outdoor environments for everyone: for disabled people, for minority ethnic groups, for children, young people and their carers, for older people and for economically or socially disadvantaged groups.

We recognise the potential offered by open space at all scales to provide opportunities for outdoor activity and positive engagement with the natural environment, to enhance people’s health and wellbeing and to build social capital. Our aim is to place our vision at the heart of all urban and rural policy.

OPENspace was established in 2001 to bridge academia, policy and practice, with support from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. Since our formation, we have attracted over £5m in external funds, held four international conferences, published two monographs and provided evidence to government, industry and the not-for-profit sector.

Catharine Ward Thompson talks about OPENspace research

"“One of the signs of success of a great research organisation, such as OPENspace, is when the ideas that it pioneers are accepted so widely that they become commonplace.""

Marcus Sangster, former Head of Land Use and Social Research, Forestry Commission

We are currently leading two major projects, each valued at over £1m: one for the National Institute for Health Research; and one for the major UK Research Council initiative, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing.

Our research has been cited in guidance by the World Health Organization, and we have published and presented widely, including in the US and Canada, Australia, Scandinavia and the Baltic States.

The team is led by Professor Catharine Ward Thompson; the Associate Directors are Professor Emeritus Peter Aspinall and Dr Simon Bell.

We teach on the Landscape and Wellbeing - MSc at ECA (Catharine and Simon are Co-Directors of the programme) and supervise a number of PhD students, as well as teaching Landscape Architecture at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Would you like to undertake research-led study at ECA?

We also offer a range of research-led postgraduate programmes. Find out more.


Join ESALA for the OPENspace Autumn/Winter 2022/2023 series:

Tue 8 November 2022 | OPENspace Research Seminar Series: Leyla Deniz Kiraz | 'Understanding Use of Parks and User Characteristics: Behaviour Observation and Mapping in Edinburgh’s Urban Parks' | Online and in-person | 1pm | Register here >

Thu 24 November 2022 | Urban rewilding: new vision or repacking of the old? | Online and in-person | 4pm | Register here >

Past Events

Tue 8 March 2022 | OPENspace Research Seminar Series: Weijing Wang | ‘Gaze through social media: spatio-temporal activities of photo-taking and photo-sharing in the city’ | Online | 1pm

Tue 22 March 2022 | OPENspace Research Seminar Series: Charlotte Wendelboe-Nelson | ‘Characterising the Exposome: A holistic approach to help understand the impact of the environment on health’ | Online | 1pm

Tue 5 April 2022 | OPENspace Research Seminar Series: Sara Tilley & Caroline Pearce | Online | 1pm

Are you interested in studying Landscape and Wellbeing - MSc at Edinburgh College of Art?

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