Architecture Interiors

Sustainable Design: For The Love of Nature

Sustainable Biophilic Design

Are you captivated by nature, its tranquillity, its serenity?  How you feel when you are walking through a forest or sat watching the waves break on the shoreline?  Does it create a feeling of being at peace with yourself, forgetting everyday stresses, which you are typically surrounded by?  For me running along the beach gives me a sense of freedom.  Biophilia, is not a new trend that has just emerged and will disappear like a puff of smoke, it refers to a connection to our natural surroundings.  Harvard biologist E O Wilson (1984) describes it;

“the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms”.

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The World Health Organisation suggests that health conditions associated with having high stress levels, for instance mental health problems and cardio-vascular disease, are two of the main factors causing ill health within society today as cited by Oliver Heath Design .  Living and working in built-up areas, with the ever-increasing influences of technology, is decreasing people’s connection with nature.  This is having a negative effect on mental and physical wellbeing.  However, the distinctive aromas of nature, captured in biophilic design can help to prevent this.

So, what does the word biophilia mean?  

When you initially hear the word for the first time it sounds like something out of a Sci-fi movie.  Quiet simply the word biophilia means, ‘the love of nature’.  It is considered that humans have an intrinsic attachment to nature.  Biophilic design enables us to fulfil and maintain this attachment.  A design style, which considers both our mental and physiological wellbeing.  

Biophilic design is recognised as a design style, which can offer us a direct or indirect experience of nature.  Direct experience of nature implies to the inclusion of vegetation, natural day light and water.  Indirect approach is identified as the inclusion of natural materials such as wood or pictures of nature displayed on walls.  This would be great in areas such as hospitals where windows are not present in some areas, for instance staffrooms, treatment rooms etc.

A study in Denmark in 2019 revealed that, children who were surrounded or had regular access to nature as Schwab (2019) cites ‘were 55% less likely to have mental health problems when they became adults in comparison to those who were not’.    

Psychological Effects:

Biophilic designed spaces for both living and working, can increase our mental wellbeing, resulting in as cited by Kaitlyn Gillis (2018) ‘lowering levels of anxiety, anger, fatigue and total mood disturbances’.  With this in mind, by including nature in design can help to reverse the negative effects that result from living in an urban environment. With this in mind, by including nature within our designs can help to reverse the negative effects identified with living in an urban environment.

Physiological Effects:

Everyone is aware of the physical effects that stress can have on our bodies.  However, by including biophilia in our living and working spaces can reduce these effects.  For instance, reducing tension in muscles and the lowering of blood pressure.

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Biophilic design has a positive effect on our internal and external environments.  For instance, plants can act as sensors to mould and volatile organic compounds (VOCS), filtering out air pollution.  They are great at adsorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.   Furthermore, are used on the external surroundings of buildings to help keep them cooler.  Biophilic design can also help improve how we function in a variety of different settings.  For instance:

Biophilia in the working environment can increase staff performance and their physical and mental health, whilst decreasing (staff) non- attendance.

Taking a vacation, people will pay more for rooms with views of plants, trees, and sea views etc.

A biophilic design within an educational establishment can increase children’s and adults learning and improve test results.

In healthcare, it is recognised that biophilic design can reduce recovery times and levels of pain.

Homes, become a place of sanctuary.

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How to Create Biophilic designs?

Consideration will need to be given as to what the space is going to be used for, design style and budget.  Fulfilling people’s needs to be closer to nature should be considered at the initial stages of all design projects.  Creating a biophilic design can be achieved by including the following:

  • Pot plants, trees or a green-wall.  If your budget is tight, why not get your staff involved in growing plants or creating a green-wall.  There are plenty of videos on YouTube explaining how to create a green wall.  You could even use this as a unique selling point of your business to potential clients.
  • Sustainable and natural materials for floor and wall coverings, furniture, accessories and light fittings.  For more information on these types of materials, check out my book, My Happy Place, Healthy, Sustainable and Humane Design for Life and Work, by clicking on this link,
  • At the very start of a design project, create spaces where the floorplans are influenced by nature.
  • Acoustics – mange the absorption of noise by the inclusion of plants.
  • Create spaces which can be well ventilated, and have good air temperature management.
  • Select materials of varying textures, shapes and colours which resemble the natural environment.  For instance, consider the colour green; research suggests that green can have a soothing and calming effect on our senses.  Select circular products for furniture, this is linked to the shape of trees and branches.
  • If you include wallpaper, choose a sustainable brand which comprises scenes of nature.
  • Let the light shine in.  Ensure to utilise as much natural daylight as possible.  Surrounding ourselves in natural daylight can improve our sleep hygiene.  Why not include lighting in the form or skylights or an atrium?
  • We all like the great outdoors, create an outside garden for staff, clients or at home.  A place for people to escape to, to relax and re-connect with themselves and nature. 
  • Why not add artwork comprising scenes of nature?  This could be paintings, photographs or even a wall mural.
  • Include a water feature.  This can be for indoors or outside.  Water can create a soothing and calming environment.

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Be at one with nature, design internal and external environments, which are biophilic in itheir approach.  Promote the physical and mental well-being of friends, family or work colleagues by including natural sustainable materials.  For your business consider a green wall.  Utilise as much natural daylight as possible in all your designs.  Provide outdoor gardens for staff or clients to escape to, filled with trees, plants and perhaps a water feature.  In the home, don’t clutter spaces, include pot plants and select colours associated with nature. When creating designs, think biophilic: bring the outside in.  Create spaces which reduce stress levels and will enhance people’s wellbeing.  Have fun exploring the various types of plants and how they can enhance the environment of your living and work spaces.  

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