So What Exactly IS Biophilic Design? Part 1

Do you LOVE house plants? Or are you drawn to natural and earthy colours? Or perhaps you enjoy shapes, materials, and lighting that remind you of nature? In this blog post, I’m going to breakdown the reasons why this may be, with an introduction to the concept of biophilic design.

 Interior with plants and natural materials
Photography: Sonnie Hiles

In the past couple of years, the term ‘biophilic design’ seems to have become increasingly popular on social media. It is an idea I had previously always related to modern architecture in over-populated cities or a feature of very swanky hotels. You may have seen the impressive green buildings or the preservation of green spaces in Singapore, the second most densely populated country in the world. But perhaps it’s a little simpler than that.

Jewel Changi Airport rain water roof and living walls 
Photography: bennytgh

It is no secret that us humans are naturally drawn to nature, why wouldn’t we be? As our world has rapidly evolved, our brains have too. For better or worse, we have adapted to this new way of living. Many of us also have highly functional homes. I am referring to those that are of a solid structure, have water mains, heating, electricity and are airtight. However, in densely populated areas this often involves living sandwiched between neighbours and concrete walls and small windows, little or no outdoor space, views onto the road, and noise pollution. We are surrounded by all the things to make our lives more convenient, supermarkets, warm clothes to wear, hygiene products, we even have the luxury of having a professional chef of any cuisine to cook us something of our choice and deliver it to our front door. 

 Block of residential apartments in different colours
Photography: Anne Nygard

So why, in a culture where it would seem we have it all at our fingertips, are we still so unhappy? Anxiety and depression are sharply rising which poses a risk to many lives in the UK.

Could it be that our natural animalistic instincts haven’t caught up yet? Our heads are totally in 2021 but our hearts seem to be stuck somewhere in circa 10,000 BC. Those perfect little houses we live in are free from predators, we can regulate the temperature, we have cooking appliances, we even have different sources of in-home entertainment because we’ve run out of things to do. But do our hearts still unknowingly crave that desire to fight, forage and protect? Perhaps our habitats aren’t natural enough.

man silhouette in gap in cave looking like a cave man 
Photography: Krys Amon

The Savannah Theory suggests that humans’ preferred view is the colour green (is it a coincidence that this is the colour we see with most ease?). Green indicates that the area is healthy enough to attract animals for prey with its ability to grow food. The theory suggests that we are drawn to the view of “looking down a slope to a scene that includes copses of shade trees, flowering plants, calm non-threatening animals, indications of human habitation, and bodies of clean water.”(1) The typical scene would also involve trees for building and burning, water for hydration, and stone for building tools and weapons. Natural light would flood into this open landscape, and all would be viewed from a distance where we are safe in our refuge. We have an inborn desire for prospect so we can observe things without being seen by others.

View of the components that make up "The Savannah Theory"

Biophilic design is the idea of bringing those elements into your home. Ideally, you would have a home with a view of the ‘Savannah’, a few distant human neighbours in view, trees, water, etc. but obviously that is not possible for everybody so how else can you incorporate biophilic design within the home, office, or commercial space? By integrating natural materials in any form in your house will serve as a sub-conscious reminder. This could be through visual connection to nature, thermal and airflow variability, presence of water, biomorphic forms and patterns, complexity and order and many other things that trigger connections. For example, an open fire or log burning stove (the unpredictable movement yet comforting natural rhythm of the flame can do wonders for your mental health), even little things such as wooden features, neutral and/or earthy colours, views onto nature, and of course, plants, plants, plants!

An interior space with a stone wall, house plants, large glass windows looking out to green space 
Photography: Anne Nygard

A great way to look after yourself is to feed your instincts with biophilia. We’re not all able to live in a house with a Savannah view but we can certainly find little ways to fulfil our inner needs and satisfy our cavemen desires.

Interior space featuring a wooden floor, a round window, and furniture with a natural and neutral finish
Photography: David Chen

Is there anything you do to bring nature into your house that you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear from you! Scroll down to read some interesting facts about the benefits of biophilic design.

DID YOU KNOW?

Workplace

Living elements or views onto nature can increase wellbeing by 15%, creativity by 6% and productivity by 15%? (2) It can also improve performance in mental function and memory tests by 10-25%. (3)

Hospitality

Rooms with views onto water cost 11-18% more than those without, and guests spend 36% more time in biophilic hotel lobbies. (4)

Retail

Customers will spend 8-12% more for products in shopping centres with a mature tree canopy (5) and there are 40% more sales in skylit stores (6).

Education

Optimising exposure to daylight increases speed of learning by 20-26% and improves test scores by 5-14%. It also increases attendance by 3.5 days a year. (7)

Healthcare

Patients with views onto nature experience 8.5% shorter hospital stays (8). Even images of nature reduces perception of pain, anxiety and use of medication.

Residential

Properties go for 7% higher in locations close to greenery or nature and 13% close to water bodies. Areas with access to nature experience 7-8% less crime.

 

 

 

References

  1. Orians and Heerwagen (1992)

  2. Human Spaces Report (2015)

  3. Heschong (2003)

  4. Human Spaces Report (2017)

  5. NRDC (2013)

  6. Heschong Mahone Group (1999)

  7. Bailey (1996)

  8. Ulrich (1984)

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