When trapped in a space with no windows and little connection to the environment, it is not uncommon to experience an urge to go outside and breathe in fresh air, see greenery and feel the sunshine. These factors in nature increase our sense of well-being and can increase our ability to focus while elevating our creativity. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is only recently being recognized as a standard requirement in building and space designs as a way to maintain a healthful and vibrant existence. The term Biophilia (coined by social psychologist Eric Fromm) relates back to the need for our species to connect with nature as a means of survival. As a species our brains and bodies evolved for thousands of years without buildings and we are the healthiest when we reconnect with this part of our history.
A definition shared by Natalie Grasso in Work Design Magazine’s April 2016 Issue sums up ‘biophilia” with an unassuming line of questions…”Simply put, what is biophilia? How would you describe it to a kindergartener? How would you describe it to a harried executive?
Kindergartener: Typically when we think of sustainability we think of OUR impact on nature. And it’s true that each and every one of us affects nature. But the opposite is also true. Nature has a significant and profound impact on every single one of us.
Executive: Biophilia is the notion that all people are connected to nature (a part of nature, not apart from nature) and that we are at our best when we are surrounded by nature, or references to nature. This has great implications for the way we design our interior spaces.”
Biophilic designs allow for a direct encounter with nature and nature-inspired elements to bring about wellness. Some innovators in space design have literally covered interior walls with moss and created entire buildings in glass. However, these practices are not practical or appropriate for all types of spaces. This is where design utilizing elements containing the essence of natural objects without being copies can help achieve sustainable, lasting design.
Stephen R Kellert explains that Biophilic design contains six elements:
1. Environmental Features
Bringing well-recognized characteristics of the natural world into the built environment: Color, water, air, sunlight, plants, animals and natural materials. Landscapes and Geology.
2. Natural Shapes and Forms
Botanical, animal and shell motifs. Shapes resisting straight lines and right angles. Arches and vaults and domes (architecture that evokes emotion). Simulation of natural features, extending even to biomorphic art, architecture, design.
3. Natural Patterns and Processes
Varying the sensory experience of a space with time, change, and transitions; complimentary contrasts, the play between balance and tension; rhythm, ratios and use of scale. Information richness. Fractals and organized complexity.
4. Light and Space
Learning how and why humans react to light in all its forms (warm, cool, shaped, filtered, diffused, inside vs. outside) informs how to use it. The same applies to differing kinds of spaces: Shaped, harmonious, jarring, light and dark, etc.
5. Place-Based Relationships
The significance of place is tied to meaning: Historic, cultural, geographic, spiritual, or ecological. With deeper understanding, we can honor and evoke those relationships within the build environment.
6. Evolved Human-Nature Relationships
We have been transformed by our complex relationship with Nature, and we still react strongly to the echoes of our long history. We can use design to evoke these powerful reminders, such as Prospect and Refuge; Order and Complexity; Curiosity and Enticement; Mastery and Control; Affection and Attachment; Security and Protection; Exploration and Discovery; Information and Cognition; Fear and Awe.
Fabric has an amazing ability to replicate nature. From flowing around curves like water to glowing with light, tensioned fabric architecture can transform a space in a nature-inspired way. A hotel is a retreat where a tired business traveler comes for rest. It should be a place that offers rejuvenation, allowing the visitor to feel great. Restaurants are gathering places for people to refuel and connect. A theater should energize and entertain. Biophilic design is the key to creating these spaces which reflect nature and help fulfill the purpose in a meaningful way.