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Biophilic Design : Embark on the Road to Wellness

Incorporating Nature in modern day design structure can bring the much needed 'Calm'

Incorporating Nature in modern day design structure can bring the much needed ‘Calm’

“…the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”

– Frederick Law Olmsted

The demand for natural resources in today’s time has disproportionately created imbalances in nature. This increased demand reinforces the need to care for the environment with an even greater passion.

Even though technology and innovation are touted to bring solutions to our current economic and environmental challenges. To achieve efficiency-based sustainability, solutions must be created to match or exceed impacts caused by global conditions in order to offset increased demand for economic growth and natural resource conservation for future generations.

With the emergence of the green building movement in the early 1990s, linkages were made between improved environmental quality and worker productivity. While the financial gains due to productivity improvements were considered significant, productivity was identified as a placeholder for health and well-being, which have even broader impact. The healing power of a connection with nature was established by Roger Ulrich’s landmark study comparing recovery rates of patients with and without a view to nature.

The translation of biophilia as a hypothesis into design of the built environment took shape as Stephen Kellert in his book on biophilic design identified more than 70 different mechanisms for engendering a biophilic experience, and contributing authors William Browning and Jenifer Seal-Cramer outlined three classifications of user experience: Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space.

The last decade has seen a steady growth in work around and the intersections of neuroscience and architecture, both in research and in practice; even green building standards have begun to incorporate biophilia, predominantly for its contribution to indoor environmental quality and connection to place.

Vatican City gardens Image © Valentina A/Flickr.

Most recently, biophilic design is being championed as a complementary strategy for addressing workplace stress, student performance, patient recovery, community cohesiveness and other familiar challenges to health and overall well-being.

In the context of Biophilic Design, it defines nature as living organisms and non-living components of an ecosystem – inclusive of everything from the sun and moon and seasonal arroyos, to managed forests and urban raingardens, to Nemo’s fishbowl habitat.

Nature-Design Relationships

Biophilic design can be organized into three categories – Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space – providing a framework for understanding and enabling thoughtful incorporation of a rich diversity of strategies into the built environment.

Nature in the Space

Nature in the Space addresses the direct, physical and ephemeral presence of nature in a space or place. This includes plant life, water and animals, as well as breezes, sounds, scents and other natural elements. Common examples include potted plants, flowerbeds, bird feeders, butterfly gardens, water features, fountains, aquariums, courtyard gardens and green walls or vegetated roofs. The strongest Nature in the Space experiences are achieved through the creation of meaningful, direct connections with these natural elements, particularly through diversity, movement and multi-sensory interactions.

Image Source : Oliver Health

Nature in the Space encompasses seven biophilic design patterns:

  1. Visual Connection with Nature. A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.
  2. Non-Visual Connection with Nature. Auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
  3. Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. Stochastic and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
  4. Thermal & Airflow Variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.
  5. Presence of Water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.
  6. Dynamic & Diffuse Light. Leverages varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.
  7. Connection with Natural Systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.

Natural Analogues

Natural Analogues addresses organic, non-living and indirect evocations of nature. Objects, materials, colors, shapes, sequences and patterns found in nature, manifest as artwork, ornamentation, furniture, décor, and textiles in the built environment. Mimicry of shells and leaves, furniture with organic shapes, and natural materials that have been processed or extensively altered (e.g., wood planks, granite tabletops), each provide an indirect connection with nature: while they are real, they are only analogous of the items in their ‘natural’ state. The strongest Natural Analogue experiences are achieved by providing information richness in an organized and sometimes evolving manner.

Natural Analogues encompasses three patterns of biophilic design:

  1. Biomorphic Forms & Patterns. Symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.
  2. Material Connection with Nature. Materials and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology and create a distinct sense of place.
  3. Complexity & Order. Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.

Nature of the Space

Nature of the Space addresses spatial configurations in nature. This includes our innate and learned desire to be able to see beyond our immediate surroundings, our fascination with the slightly dangerous or unknown; obscured views and revelatory moments; and sometimes even phobia-inducing properties when they include a trusted element of safety. The strongest Nature of the Space experiences are achieved through the creation of deliberate and engaging spatial configurations commingled with patterns of Nature in the Space and Natural Analogues.

Image Source : TerraMai : The Google Quad campus

Nature of the Space encompasses four biophilic design patterns:

Prospect. An unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning.

Refuge. A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.

Mystery. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment.

Risk/Peril. An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable safeguard.

Businesses at the vanguard of work place design such as Apple, Google and Amazon are investing heavily in Biophilic Design elements. These principles are shown to improve worker concentration, engagement and cognitive ability but also to attract and retain staff in the “war for talent”.

Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment have been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self reported rates of well-being.


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