Biophilic design – made real

My last blog enthused about the idea of biophilic design – introducing nature into the built environment to foster human wellbeing. So how do you do that, in practice?

The picture above provides one example. Look at the shape of the structure. The materials are all natural. By adding trees – and swaying in the wind on swings – nature has been brought into the building. It’s a brilliant design: only cast-iron traditionalists who think work and fun are antithetical could possibly object.

However, good biophilic design can be much simpler; we can all introduce its concepts at work or home. The first and most obvious principle is to make sure you get a good view of the natural world. If windows and sight lines can’t achieve this, use colours and wallpaper to bring flora and fauna, landscapes and horizons into the space.

Have you noticed that nature doesn’t do right angles and straight lines? Look at our buildings though and they’re all about rigid rectangles. So another simple element of good biophilic design is to introduce curves and ovals – a lovely way to soften any area. 

When we think of nature we often picture a plant or greenery. Green is the colour of our origins – the forests and savannahs that remain imprinted on our psyche. For that reason it’s the easiest colour on the human eye. You can guess, therefore, my next observation, which is to bring easily-maintained plants into any space. Just being near to flowers and plants has a positive effect on our mood and outlook. Speaking for myself, they make a huge difference to how I feel, indoors and out.

The other core principle behind good biophilic design is to avoid manmade materials. To me, it’s a no-brainer, since by definition they break our link with nature. Whether designing, building, completing or enhancing a space, the way forward is easy to remember: ‘Just Be Natural!’ 

Looking at, touching and even smelling natural products is a great way to bring the outside in, keeping your environment stress-free. The same goes for air quality and acoustic levels – vital considerations in any human-centred design.

And the final touch? Lighting. Natural light boosts our serotonin levels and hence our mood. Poor lighting replaces this with gloom, both literal and metaphorical. In all our designs, we spend time and effort getting the lighting right. It’s good biophilic design – and absolutely elementary!

Numerous studies over the last 35 years have shown that biophilic design and access to nature contributes to:

· productivity in offices increasing 8% (and well-being by 13%), with creativity up and absenteeism/presenteeism down
· hotel guests willing to pay 23% more for rooms with views
· learning in education establishments improving 20-25%, alongside improved test results, concentration levels and attendance
· the decreased impact of ADHD
· post-operative recovery times reducing by 8.5% (and pain medication by 22%)
· rental rates on retail spaces increasing, with customers willing to pay 8-12% more for goods and services
· more calming & restorative homes, with 7-8 % less crime and an increase of 4-5% in property prices