Biophilic design

What is biophilic design and what are its benefits?

The days of barren urban environments and drab buildings as homes and offices are coming to an end. As people have rediscovered the benefits of getting in touch with nature, there has been a demand to bring the outdoors indoors and to create buildings and interiors that promote physical and mental health.

With biophilic design, the creation of built environments now includes a holistic approach focused on the user’s well-being. In this article, we’ll explain how biophilic design can provide spaces and experiences that deliver enduring value to your clients.

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What are Biophilia and Biophilic Design?

Have you ever wondered why crashing waves are so captivating? Why sunlight and the company of animals lift our spirits? Why the sight of a garden sparks creativity? 

The answer is biophilia, which is the inherent human connection with nature. And this affiliation with the natural world is part of human evolution. According to Stephen Kellert, one of the pioneers of biophilia, our bodies, minds and senses developed in a biocentric world, in response to forces created by nature. Thus, we seek to be close to the natural environment and have an innate attraction for living things.

But unfortunately, we still spend on average 90% of our time indoors, often in dull concrete environments, which takes a toll on people’s health. Work-related stress, anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions that cause loss of money through unproductiveness, hospital admissions and expenditure on mental health programmes in companies. Research shows 66% of organisations in the UK have mental health assistance programmes to help their employees.

A natural environment can reduce work stress, depression, and frustration and increase creativity, work output, concentration, and more. The presence of natural elements has been proven to boost employee happiness and productivity and reduce absenteeism and sickness rates. It decreases patients’ recovery time in hospitals and increases student focus at schools.

However, for a long time nature has been regarded as an obstacle or a trivial consideration in modern architecture and design. This disconnection between people and nature continues to be reflected in the lack of natural light, ventilation, natural materials, vegetation, views and forms in the built environment.

What do you think of when you’re asked to imagine your happy place? You probably don’t describe grey cages and windowless interiors. Nor do the rest of us. You’re most likely to describe vibrant places with natural elements, textures and aromas that provoke a myriad of emotions, but above all, pleasure and comfort. 

So, how can you provide homes, offices, and schools that improve the quality of life of their users? That’s the aim of biophilic design. This architectural and interior design practice focuses on creating functional, restorative and inspiring spaces, which is a goal outlined in the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s (RIBA) Guide to Sustainable Performance.

For the successful application of biophilic design, there are attributes, principles, and experiences to be taken into account in residential and commercial projects.

Experiences, attributes and principles of Biophilic Design

There are three core principles of biophilic design:

  • Nature in the space: Direct experience and contact with nature 
  • Natural analogues: Indirect experience and contact with nature
  • Nature of the space: Experience of space and place and human spatial response 

Direct experience and contact with nature

This principle is about bringing real sensory forms of nature into built environments. It goes beyond the use of trees and greenery. It’s also about water features, light, and even the changes that we see over the seasons in natural materials.

Light

Natural light plays an integral role in human health and well-being. At WindsorPatania, we took advantage of natural light when working on Eden House, one of our biggest sustainable projects. We made sure that the house received plenty of natural sunlight, which releases dopamine in the brain, elevating the mood of future occupants.

The creative interplay of light and shadow allows natural light to take aesthetically pleasing forms. With the use of glass walls and skylights, reflective colours and materials and other design strategies, you can bring natural light into interior spaces.

Air

Humans must have access to natural ventilation for their comfort and productivity. Variations in airflow, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure can enhance the experience of natural ventilation in the built environment.

Operable windows or more complex engineering and technological solutions can be used to achieve these conditions. You can introduce fresh air into the building in a controlled manner by optimising the number, size and location of vents. This is an effective strategy to improve indoor air quality, especially during summer days.

Natural landscapes and ecosystems

It’s satisfying to experience a self-sustaining ecosystem. A functional ecosystem is typically rich in biological diversity and provides a wide array of ecological services, such as nutrient cycling, pollination, and decomposition. 

Views, observation platforms, direct interaction, and even active participation can facilitate contact with natural systems. Because Eden House is located in the Green Belt, we decided to maintain wildlife corridors and provide a controlled environment for vegetation and biodiversity that visitors can enjoy.

Indirect experience and contact with nature

Indirect experience of nature refers to how we can evoke or mimic the feeling of nature with natural colours and materials. Examples include artwork, wooden furniture and woollen fabrics. The same principle applies to the characteristic textures, shapes and patterns of the natural world.

Our Youth Centre project takes these aspects into account. To offer children a space in harmony with nature, we designed a centre “embraced” by trees. And to evoke the texture of wood on the façade, we used metal strips and coloured ceramics.

Natural materials

Most natural materials evoke positive visual and tactile responses, which few artificial materials can match. Natural materials are particularly stimulating because of their dynamic properties, which reflect the adaptive responses of organic matter to stress and challenges over time. Wood, stone and cotton are examples of natural decorative materials. 

Naturalistic shapes and forms 

Shapes that resemble nature can transform a static space into one that possesses the dynamic and ambient qualities of a living system. According to Kellert, there is a wide variety of naturalistic shapes throughout architecture, from leaf patterns on columns to plant motifs on building façades to animal facsimiles in fabrics and furnishings.

Natural colours

An effective biophilic colour palette often includes muted “earth” tones reminiscent of soil, rocks and plants. The use of bright colours can also be used to suggest attractive environmental forms, such as flowers, sunrise, sunsets, and rainbows.

Experience of space and place and human spatial response

The third principle refers to spatial features of the natural environment that have positively influenced human health and well-being. It’s about how you can create spaces that nurture, where anyone can sit and relax and restore their mental and physical energy.   

This principle is also about designing stimulating environments where people want to work, concentrate, mix and mingle with others. Places that make us feel safe and provide a sense of refuge help us perform complex cognitive tasks. Open floor plans, elevated planes and spaces where one feels secure and from which one has a good prospect over a landscape can reduce stress, irritation and fatigue.

Benefits of biophilic design for residential and commercial projects

We’ve discussed the physical, mental, and behavioural benefits of biophilic design, including: 

  • Less stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure
  • Enhanced physical fitness, attention and concentration
  • Improved problem-solving, creativity and social interaction. 

But biophilic design has other advantages from a business point of view:

Added value

Homes and estates with biophilic views have a higher kerb appeal, attract more buyers, and have a higher rental price. In addition, most buyers are willing to pay higher rental and purchase rates for offices in buildings that have been created with biophilic design principles in mind.

Boost in sales

Natural elements in shops have a calming and soothing psychological effect that makes people buy more products. Thus, retail companies with biophilic elements often see their profit margins improve. 

In The Economics of Biophilia, a report by the environmental consulting and strategic planning firm Terrapin Bright Green in the US, retail customers agreed that businesses with biophilic features, such as trees, skylights, and multiple-view corridors, were worth up to 25% higher prices than businesses without any access to nature.

In hospitality, biophilic design has a similar effect. Hotels and resorts that offer their guests a holistic experience of all five senses and invest in a design that benefits circadian rhythms see their revenues increase. Relaxation encourages people to spend more, and you can take advantage of this.

Higher staff retention

Younger generations are still looking for more than the basic requirements of traditional office space. Millennials and Gen Z tend to prioritise their mental health, comfort, and work-life balance more. And they prefer working environments designed for collaboration and integration, where they can connect with each other.

Biophilic design is people-centric, and putting human needs at the forefront of workplace design has helped organisations increase their staff retention rates and reduce absenteeism rates, especially among these generations.

From living walls to coursing streams and garden terraces, companies have started to invest in biophilic solutions to attract new talent and lure workers back to the office after the pandemic. Examples include the London offices of Google, Spotify, Bloomberg and Deloitte.

Energy efficiency

Investing in biophilic design will also allow you to reap tangible long-term rewards. Effective use of natural light, sunlight, and natural ventilation will reduce the energy consumption of your property, which is critical given rising energy prices in the UK. In addition, reducing your reliance on electricity and fossil fuels contributes to reversing climate change.

How WindsorPatania Architects can help you set new standards

Our purpose is to make high-tech sustainable architecture easy for you. Our designs are based on the principles of a people-centred approach, sustainability, and contextualisation. 

So if you’re considering biophilic design as part of your company’s wellness strategy, we’re ready to take your project to the next level and make it a reality. We’ll help you create spaces that enhance comfort, foster human connection and facilitate a visual connection with nature. And our experts will take care of the planning, construction control and construction work so that you can focus on other important matters.

Our projects contribute to a happier and healthier version of the end user. If your focus is on luxury residential projects, we have the expertise to create idyllic homes tailored to the needs of their future occupants. We’re dedicated to designing special homes that promote a healthy way of life for the family, whilst protecting the environment and the surrounding biodiversity. 

At WindsorPatania Architects, we strive to exceed your expectations at every stage of the project and impress your prospective buyers.

We look forward to working with you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Ryan Windsor

Ryan Windsor

(Development Direct, Co-Founder at WindsorPatania Architects) Ryan Windsor is a property developer and entrepreneur who has invested in the industry for 15 years. Graduated from Cambridge University Judge Business School, currently advising on large capital projects and consulting over 730 projects. Ryan is passionate about social entrepreneurship, mentoring, and founding adviser for multiple start-ups. His experience gives him the expertise to guide you through your development journey.

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