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What is Biophilia?

Biophilia has been studied by theorists, scientists and designers for decades, to understand how our built environment effects our overall health and well-being.

Put simply, biophilia is the innate humane instinct to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. We do so as part of our in-built DNA to survive – our ancestors using the natural world around them to hunt, farm, gather and protect.

By placing nature at the core of design (rather than an added after thought), humans can feel more connected with nature in their home or workplace as well as public spaces such as hospitals, shopping centres and restaurants. We can do this by using colours, shapes, patterns and materials found widely available in the natural world.

We discussed biophiliic design in our trends report at the start of the year, and how you can introduce small biophilic elements into your home. But does it work?

Research shows that earthy, natural colour schemes and fractal patterns (organic shapes and forms found in nature) can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, increase productivity and creativity and ultimately make us happier.

"...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." Olmsted (1865)

A simple, visual connection with nature can have a huge impact on our well-being, with almost instant effect. Positive emotions and mental restoration can occur in as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature.

Creating a visual connection with nature, such as positioning your desk or armchair close to a window, has proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate (Brown, Barton & Gladwell, 2013); improved mental attentiveness (Bierderman & Vessel, 2006); and positively impacts our attitudes and overall happiness (Barton & Pretty, 2010).

Our body responds to non-visual connections to nature too. For example – sensory stimulation, such as sounds and smells, can lower stress hormones; improve cognitive performance (Mehta, Zhu & Cheema, 2012); and provide tranquility. The presence of water, or perceived presence (e.g. simulated sounds), have been proven to improve concentration, perception and short-term memory (Alvarsson et al., 2010).

Light quality and exposure has an enormous impact on our bodies too – in particular our circadian rhythm – which is the internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle every 24 hours. To maintain a healthy cycle, we should seek as much natural daylight as possible early in the day; and then limit our exposure to light before bed. The design of our built environment can impact our exposure to light at various times of the day and night.

Top tips for including biophilic design elements into your space:

  • Include lots of planting, green walls and where possible running water such as fountains in gardens.

  • Ensure consistent views of nature, placing furniture towards windows or including large glazed windows and doors to divide spaces.

  • Introduce fractal patterns (those found in nature) such as the shapes found in the structure of a leaf or tree trunk.

  • Consider sounds, or introduce music that immerses the user in sounds of nature.

  • Include scent – naturally through planting or food; or artificially through diffusers, essential oils and scented candles.

  • Include natural materials such as timber, natural stone and marble; leather, suede linen and cork.

As designers, we consider the impact of the built environment on each and every user of the space and their well-being. Biophilic design plays a huge part in the creation of healthy, sustainable environments.

If you'd like to talk to us more about biophilic design, or inclusive design for well-being then get in touch... we'd love to chat!


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