Chances are you know how great nature can be for your mental health. From the intense rejuvenation you feel from being in the wilderness to the simple relaxation of walking around your neighborhood. Biophilic design seeks to connect our inherent need to be close to the natural world with the modern built environment. So, what is biophilic architecture exactly? And how can it benefit your home or workspace?
What is Biophilia?
Biophilic design is based on the principles of what is known as “biophilia.” Biophilia literally translates to “a love of life or living things.” American naturalist E. O. Wilson popularized the term when he wrote “the biophilia hypothesis” in his 1984 book Biophilia. The biophilia hypothesis states that it is “human nature to enjoy Earth’s biodiversity.” In other words, human beings have a biological drive to be in nature and emulate it in their daily lives.
What is Biophilic Design?
Biophilia is the basic undercurrent of biophilic design and architecture. Biophilic architects and designers seek to incorporate nature into our everyday spaces – like our homes and offices. The ultimate goal of biophilic design is to create an environment that satisfies our intrinsic need to be close to the natural world. Designers can do this in a variety of ways, from plant features, natural materials and light, and much more.
However, biophilic design is more than just sticking a house plant in your living room. According to Metropolis.com, “The effectiveness of biophilic design depends on interventions that are connected, complementary, and integrated within the overall environment rather than being isolated or transient.” Meaning, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to biophilic design. To truly achieve a biophilic design, the entire space should emulate nature with different elements working together to create a harmonious whole.
Elements of Biophilic Design
Each part of biophilic design inherently involves nature. Put together, these elements can mimic the natural world in form and aesthetic.
Materials like wood and stone rather than plastic and metal are preferable in biophilic design. Rough or raw versions of the material can enhance its natural element. For example, rough rather than polished stone tiles can mimic the kind of stone you’d find in the mountains.
Beyond materials, integrating patterns that naturally occur in nature like spirals, curves, fractals, and honey-comb shapes can add to the natural aesthetic. The use of natural patterns in design actually has its own name too- “biomimicry.” Biomimicry can help harmonize the space with gestures of nature rather than overt forms like plants.
Bringing Nature Inside
Indoor water features, skylights, strategically placed windows, indoor plants, and living walls, are all ways to bring the outside in. It’s all about bringing elements of nature together like the smell of plants, the sound of running water, and the feel of the sun into an artificial space.
Outdoor Plants and Greenery
Landscaping is one of the main features of biophilic design. For example, green roofs, rooftop gardens, abundant gardens around the building, and trees and plants along outdoor stairwells can bring biophilic design to a building’s exterior.
Aquariums, outdoor duck ponds, and bird sanctuaries are a few ways to bring us closer to our non-human friends. Of course, incorporating animals into any space should be done carefully with the welfare of animals at the forefront of each decision. If the area and conditions allow, introducing non-invasive, diverse, and native species to your architecture project can help solidify the human-nature relationship.
Benefits of Biophilic Design
Human beings have only been living in a world with abundant agricultural development, cities, industry, and technology for the last 12,000 years. This means that for 99% of human existence, we have lived in essentially, the wild. Researchers believe that because of this, we have evolved an “adaptive response to natural not artificial or human created forces.” Meaning, we may have evolved to desire a natural rather than a man-made world.
This idea was bolstered by a study where subjects were subliminally exposed to images of snakes, spiders, guns, and frayed electrical wires. In the study, “almost all the study participants aversively responded to the subconsciously revealed images of snakes and spiders, yet remained largely indifferent to the handguns and exposed electrical wires.” This has many implications beyond just a fear of daddy-long-legs. In fact, studies have shown that nature- and a built world that mimics nature- can be extremely beneficial to our health.
Regular access to nature can not only reduce the stress you feel, it can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, according to a 2019 study, just 20 minutes of being in nature lowered the stress hormone cortisol in all 36 participants. Access to a nature-inspired environment at work and home could thus go a long way in managing everyday stress.
Nature has the power to boost creativity. A 2011 study found that backpackers showed higher levels of creativity in a word association test after being in nature for a few days. So next time you’re in a creative block, literally take a hike (maybe even around your biophilic designed office building).
Even Frank Lloyd Wright would agree:
“I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain.”
Even a view of nature can boost productivity. At a call center in Sacramento, California, a company found that workers who had a view of vegetation from their desks were 6-7% more productive. The company decided to rearrange all workspaces to include views of nature. This resulted in an “Annual productivity savings averaging $2,990 per employee.”
Amazingly, nature even has the power to promote healing. According to A 1984 study reported by Masterclass, “ patients provided with a view of nature from their windows recovered more quickly from surgery and took less pain relievers than those who did not have a view.”
Regulates Circadian Rhythm
Natural light plays a central role in regulating your circadian rhythm, or your natural clock. A 2017 study found that those who got more sunlight in the morning and throughout their day had improved mood and sleep quality. Biophilic designs that include natural light from skylights and strategically placed windows could be instrumental in helping people get a good night’s sleep.
While sustainability isn’t the main focus of biophilic design, many aspects of this type of architecture can lead to more sustainable practices. For example, more exposure to natural light can cut down on electricity use. Abundant greenery found in biophilic designs, can sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Additionally, natural materials tend to lean sustainable compared to artificial materials like plastic and concrete.
Biophilic Design Can Make You Happier
Human beings weren’t meant to spend their days in a cold, gray, cubicle. Sadly, much of our built environment was made with little natural light, artificial materials, no access to outdoor space and no opportunity for interaction with plants and animals. These settings can be detrimental for our mental, spiritual, and physical health. Still, for many people, accessing nature is difficult if not impossible. This is especially true if you spend 90% of your day in an office building. Biophilic design can satisfy our age-old need for nature while still allowing us to be productive at home and at work.
Hopefully, more and more buildings will be made with biophilia in mind so we can create a future with less stress, more productivity, and a better quality of life. In the meantime, incorporating some elements of biophilic design into your space might just make you, your family and/or colleagues a little bit happier and healthier.
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