“Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects.”
What is Biophilic Design?
Biophilic design is the broad application of connections with natural environments, elements, and patterns. It can be viewed as the relationship of science, nature, and the built environment combined. Humans impact nature as much as nature impacts humans. This isn’t exactly a new concept – people always have and always will associate closely with the natural world, even when we are inside a building during most of the day. But we are coming up with new ways to talk about it, think about what it means, and apply the findings to design.
Why does it matter?
There are two main factors that drive the need for biophilic design:
- We spend about 90% of our time indoors
- Urbanization: increase in buildings and decrease of green spaces
As designers, we are tasked with bringing some of those natural elements back to human lives. The benefits to biophilic design elements are mutually beneficial to the end users and to the business’ bottom line. Backed by research, these basic benefits include:
- Improves mood, physical and mental health, and cognitive function
- Reduces stress levels
- Increases productivity, performance, engagement, and creativity
- Advances the natural healing process
How do we do it?
First off, as designers, we listen to our Owners to gather insight on their needs and priorities for their end users. Then we determine what is possible in terms of biophilic design and how it will benefit the end user and Owner. In the design process, we strive to find the sweet spot between quality and quantity within the space – ensuring we don’t over saturate. A school will have obviously different requirements and needs than an office building, but the basic design tactics are the same:
Introduce natural daylighting into buildings to the greatest extent possible for maximum benefit, but do so in a controlled and responsive manner. Proper building orientation means maximizing southern and northern exposures and minimizing east and west exposures. Worried about the energy costs of having a wall full of windows? Don’t worry, this is where engineers come in and help design with tools for energy savings. Exterior shading devices, elements that push daylight deeper into the building, and proper interior window treatments can be incorporated.
Fabrics, finishes, and lighting
Choosing fabric colors, textures, and patterns that occur naturally in the environment around them is a simple way to provide connection to the outdoors. Using palm tree patterns, nautical textures, and beachy colors may not be the best choice for a building in Indiana – it would be best to incorporate something more authentic to the geology of a specific place. This can be wood planks, limestone features, and a neutral color palette.
As for lighting, try to include technology that allows users to mimic the lighting outdoors. For example, include dimmers so lights can be slightly lowered as the sun goes down. Shadows within the space will mimic what is happening outside this way as well.
Real plants and water features
Make sure not to forget large and small plants when planning interior design elements. Naturally weaving organic materials into a design helps to give an authentic and cool vibe. Other than being aesthetically pleasing, natural plants also help improve indoor air quality.
It is important to consider what windows face outside – plants and/or water features should be placed strategically outdoors as well. The benefits to biophilic design will be heighted when the user is looking at big trees, colorful flowers, or peaceful water fountains even when the users are still indoors. A courtyard area (inside of out) with a water feature and plants creates a calm refuge area from the busy day.
Give them a view
Like we mentioned above, give a visual connection to nature and let plenty of natural light in. Panoramic views, or large windows positioned next to common or lounge areas give users a chance to have a moment to practice mindfulness, a good breather from the busy day. Plan office layouts that position desks to face windows.
If designing for an exterior courtyard, arrange an indoor seating area around those windows so people can still peer out at the activity even when they can’t join. Providing movement within users’ line of sight will give them a visual break they need to stay focused.
Biomorphic design elements
This means integrating naturally occurring shapes, forms, or patterns suggestive of nature and living things into the design of the built environment. This can be merged into the previous point (fabrics, treatments, and finishes) and/or through the building’s structural and ornamental design. Apply biomorphic design elements to two or three surfaces, too much could cause a negative reaction for users.
If there is little opportunity to give users a full view of the outdoors or to incorporate organic materials, murals of a landscape scene can serve as a good alternative. On a smaller scale, paintings or sculptures are nice touches to add to a space that provides a good view of the outdoors.
There will always be restrictions – budget, priorities, safety, or available square footage – on how grand the biophilic design gestures can be. But even the smallest touches can create a big overall impact on users. If you can’t do a huge wall of windows or provide a jungle-like courtyard, sprinkling biophilic design elements sparingly in common spaces and high-traffic areas can still have a significant impact on users. So take a short (or long) break and find a way to immerse yourself in nature to improve your day and health!