You may be familiar with the term “biophilic design.” If so, you may recognize the difference between biophilia and sustainable design. For the rest of us, sustainable design focuses on reducing the consumption of resources, which may include energy use and use of natural resources to make products. Products made from recycled materials, reused products, or products created from local resources (to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transport) are all examples of sustainable design.
Biophilic design, on the contrary, involves humans’ connection to nature within a built environment. The term originates from the Greek word “philia” meaning “love of” and “bio” meaning “life.” Or, in this case, living things in nature.
Industry professionals often cite six principles of biophilic design developed by the late Yale professor of social ecology Stephen R. Kellert, Ph.D. These are:
- Environmental Features – using well-recognized natural world characteristics
- Natural Shapes and Forms – resisting straight lines and right angles
- Natural Patterns and Processes – varying the sensory experience with transitions and complementary contrasts
- Light and Space – using light and space to evoke a human reaction
- Place-Based Relationships – designing with consideration for cultural, spiritual, ecological, or historical relationships
- Evolved Human-Nature Relationships – designing to evoke a respect for nature
What sounds complicated or costly can be simplified. Most design professionals agree that anything is better than nothing when it comes to connecting with nature. Simple design examples related to each principle include:
- Unobstructed view of greenery (trees, grass, plants, and other landscaping); use of natural materials, such as wood and stone; a fountain or other water feature.
- Furniture with rounded corners and curved lines; shells, sand, pebbles featured in décor.
- Floral or leaf patterns in artwork; sound machines that provide white noise or sounds of nature; lamps or light fixtures with timed exposure to create a circadian rhythm like that of the sun rising or setting.
- Use of sunlight through windows or skylights; use of warmer light bulbs or gel media sheets inside fluorescent light fixtures to mimic sunlight; a central inside-outside space, such as a green wall or garden in a kitchen or lobby.
- Incorporation of antique materials (beams, windows, doors) repurposed from the same building, city, or region; use of plants, wood, or stone native to the region; wall artwork or sculptures that reflect the culture or attractions of the region.
- Focal points at windows facing east or west to allow for views of sunrises or sunsets; scenic murals of mountain views or seascapes.
What are the payoffs?
Biophilic design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being, and expedite healing, according to Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The firm has compiled a list of recommended reading and resources
to learn more about the design concept.
- Indoor plants can remove 87% of air toxins in 24 hours.
- Plants create a humidity level matching the recommended human comfort range of 30% to 60%.
- Employees with a view of nature take 19% fewer hours of sick leave per year than employees with no view.
- Students progressed through school curricula 20-26% faster when learning in natural light environments.
- Patients with a view of nature are likely to experience hospital stays that are 8.5% shorter.
- Patients exposed to greater amounts of sunlight take 22% less pain medication.
- Integrating views to nature in an office space can save over $2,000 per employee per year in costs due to reduced absenteeism and greater productivity.
- Providing patients with a view of nature could save over $93 million annually in healthcare costs.
Organizations interested in implementing biophilic design practices can retain the services of a built environmental consultant, provide training opportunities for on-staff space planners or interior architects, or bring a green interior designer on board.
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