We all have a connection to nature and both research and personal experience demonstrates the benefits of being in nature. I have written in the past about some of the work the Canadian and U.S. hardwood trade associations are doing to promote hardwoods, both lumber and value-added products, to consumers, prosumers and architects. Some of these presentations include discussion about biophilic design, which is an interesting and very relevant topic for those designing commercial and residential spaces. I was very interested and I found this is yet another subject where you can go down the “rabbit hole” doing your Google research, which I started to do, and here is a bit of what I learned.
The terms biophilic design and biophylia are used to show the many benefits of nature (and of using wood) to architects and designers. There are positive physical, psychological and emotional effects to be gained and these can be recreated in both workplaces and homes. Biophilic design recognizes how much human physical and mental well-being relies on the quality of our relationships to the natural world. It is thought that the phrase biophilic design was coined by Harvard educated American biologist, Edward O. Wilson, to mean the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life. You can find a great little article, which was a perfect primer for me (and on what much of this column is based), on Space Refinery (September 20, 2022) entitled “Everything You Need to Know About Biophilic Design in 5 Minutes” (www.spacerefinery.com/blog/biophilic-design-101).
The article notes that current challenges like climate change, pandemic innovation, and the focus on mental well-being are helping to accelerate the adoption of biophilic design, which can be applied to a single room or office, to a building as a whole, or to communities at large. On a larger scale, green infrastructure can help decrease CO2 emissions, boost the diversity of plants and wildlife, and even regulate the temperature of buildings. Communities can be designed to absorb CO2 and micro-particles, while also producing oxygen, to work against the negative impacts of air pollution. On a smaller scale, following the pandemic, many people are still working remotely and biophilic design can help create more productive and inspiring work spaces.
There are six key principles of biophilic design application, according to Shepley and Bulfinch, a national architectural firm that takes on complex challenges focussing on visionary design in education, healthcare, urban development and science and technology. (I added some wood references from articles by S.R. Kellert as well as MD Bernard and A. Kutnar). The natural environment focuses on features of the natural world incorporated into an office setting. Things such as earthy colors, sunlight, plants, and images of animals and nature. Natural shapes are lines and forms that occur in nature, such as arches and vaults, recreating rock shelves, water paths, and other naturally occurring things. Wood can be used in forms that represent the materials from a living organism. Similar to natural shapes, natural patterns deal with patterns and processes that occur in nature. This could be shown through the erosion of rock over time, the growth of plants and the use of rhythm and scale. Wood grain, color variation and the presence of knots evoke natural variation. Natural light is one of the easiest forms to understand. Sunlight in healthy and biophilic design emphasizes light and space. Light helps merge the inside and outside using elements of warmth and different shapes. Wood has color diversity and can be stained without losing its familiarity as natural, and can be deployed in different-sized products. Plants are an integral element of natural design. You don’t have to turn your office into a jungle. You can focus on natural plants, imagery, or plant colors. The idea is to create a relationship between the office and the natural elements it is incorporating. The human-nature relationship, the final element, involves recreating the relationship between humans and nature. Wood has long been a source and symbol of energy, shelter, tools transportation and art. Local wood products evoke a local connection to nature and can emulate historical and regional building methods.
The publication “Business Insider” had this great quote, that “indoor and outdoor boundaries would become increasingly blurred, catering to something called biophylia, which is the theory that people instinctively feel more at ease in natural feeling surroundings.”
George Nakashima, one of the more amazing furniture makers, has a great number of quotes that are really spot on in terms of biophilic design. He says, “when trees mature, it’s fair and moral that they’re cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide beauty, strength, and utility to serve man even to become an object of great artistic worth.”
This is a design movement inspired by nature. One of the great architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, said, “study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” and “wood is the most humanly intimate of all materials.” He translated this philosophy into structures in harmony with man and its environment, something he called “organic architecture.” This principle of organic and nature-inspired design grew slowly into a movement, and biophilic design was born.
Investigating further, you see that research shows there are a multitude of benefits from biophilic design, for building occupants and urban environments. There are health, environmental, economic and sustainability/resilience benefits. One big reason biophilic design continues to grow in popularity is the health benefits it brings. We already know that there are tangible health benefits of adding plants to modern offices. CIPHR a people-focused business, delivering HR solutions designed to meet the needs of organisations and industries in the UK, along with several studies, show plants can provide many benefits, including reduced stress levels, increased productivity, a reduction in sick days and absenteeism, make it more attractive for job candidates, reduced pollution and cleaner air, lower noise levels, as well as a boost in creativity.
In healthcare settings, architects and designers are understanding the benefits of bringing flora in to those spaces. You will see hospital rooms now where not only is the furniture made from wood, the floor is made from wood, the shelves are made from wood etc. You will actually see growing plants and trees in healthcare spaces now, often in the public spaces, and this is beneficial for the staff as well. The sympathetic nervous systems of people who are patients waiting to be treated or the loved ones of patients who are being treated will be relaxed. I have heard research indicates that if you can see trees or nature from your hospital room, you can heal faster.
Stephen Kellert, Judith Heerwagen and Martin Mador authored a book entitled “Biophilic Design, The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life”. They explain biophilic design as an approach that fosters beneficial contact between people and nature in modern buildings and landscapes. Their book talks about how people who design and build our buildings and our communities are recognizing that the positive experience of natural systems and processes in our buildings and constructed landscapes is critical to human health, performance and well-being.
It would stand to reason
that because of our
connection with nature, biophilic design will become
a standard in design.
Experts say it is relatively simple to incorporate biophylic design into our living and working environments. Any person or organisation, no matter their budget or size, can achieve this. There are many ways to add nature to workplaces. Everybody deserves to reap the benefits of biophilic design.