Biophilic design centers its approach around the idea that humans have an innate connection with the natural environment, and that proximity to and interaction with it positively benefits the individual. Studies have suggested that humans can experience mental, emotional, and even physical health benefits from simple visual proximity to nature. Due to this phenomenon, some architects have sought to incorporate nature within or in connection to their projects for the primary purpose of supporting the well-being of the inhabitants.
The Built vs Natural Environments
As the modern ages rushes ever forward, many people have experienced a disconnect from the natural world around them. Some live in large cities of concrete and glass where the sky and sunlight struggle to break through over the tops of towering buildings. While many others have such busy lives that their total interaction with the outdoors starts and ends with their walk from their car to the office.
Nature and the built-environment are oftentimes at odds with each other, contradictions that can’t share the same space. But biophilic design seeks to create a world where both can thrive and, together, better serve their inhabitants.
Biophilia in Architecture While the modern era created this problem of disconnection, modern designers have contributed new solutions for harmony between architecture and nature. The advancement of technology allowed for new values in architecture, such as utilizing large amounts of natural light and air. Larger window capabilities allowed for increased daylight and improved views of the outdoors and new technologies improved indoor ventilation quality. These design factors were imperative in the new designs of homes, health care facilities, and even cities beginning in the early 20th century.
Hospitals such as the Paimio Sanatorium, designed by Alvar Alto in 1933, revolutionized the way health was perceived. Health care now began at the building. Taking advantage of the daylight and bright interior colors, utilizing outdoor spaces and views of the Finnish forest, and creating private, restful rooms changed the way patients experienced treatment. Today, we might take for granted the knowledge that these simple factors have a major impact on our health and recovery because the building blocks were so firmly established in this era.
Biophilic design has been used to take an active role in health and wellbeing, but it has also been shown to increase cognitive development in children. At all developmental stages, connection to nature in school can help increase focus, stimulate brain activity, and reduce stress. In an age where children are increasingly enveloped in technological devices and are often overstimulated by screen time, exposure to the outdoors while the brain is still developing is extremely important. But many educational facilities often have very limited visual or physical access to the natural world outside their classroom walls or manufactured play structures. Natural outdoor learning and play areas can increase motor skills, cognitive performance, physical health, imagination, explorative confidence, personal values, self-image, and social skills— just to name a few of the benefits. Spaces that are able to blur the classroom boundaries between the built structure and the natural world beyond create an environment for rich learning and basic human development.
Even spaces as large-scale as a city can incorporate biophilic designs. Designs that focus on allowing light into the buildings as well as down to the street, incorporate greenspace from the ground up, and that draw focus to natural materials can significantly reduce the disconnect from nature that many people experience in hardscape cities.
Projects like the Nama Park by JERDE in Osaka, Japan utilize stepped green roofs to provide physical and visual connection with plant life in a bustling city. While projects like The Spiral by BIG, currently under construction in New York, consider biophilic design in form of the building as well as within its walls. In the early 20th century, skyscrapers were often tapered as they got taller due to constraints in the constructability. The Spiral also mimics that tapered form, now for the sake of allowing light to reach down to the street rather than due to structural limitations. Designs like this require biophilic foresight, seeking to improve and sustain the health of both humanity and the environment.
Biophilic in Your Daily Life
It is our belief at AGD that good design should benefit the wellbeing of the individuals in and around it. But not all architecture benefits human or environmental health. Throughout the last couple years, many people have been faced with the truth of poor design in their everyday lives. Many working from home or isolated in offices have experienced physical and emotional health issues and have longed to leave these spaces behind for something better. Often we are limited in the extent that we are able to change certain aspects of our environments, but consider ways that you may be able to improve your surroundings with biophilic design. Adding plant life, opening up windows for fresh air, moving closer to sources of daylight can all contribute to a healthier working and living environment. And if none of these are an option, we encourage you to take a walk outside this week, and take note of the impact nature can have on your wellbeing. Here at AGD, we will continue to work to make the dream of healthier spaces a reality in our daily lives.
Written by Angelique Macklin