The days of barren urban environments and drab buildings are coming to an end. The brief trips we made outdoors during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns reaffirmed our affinity with natural environments. It also led to a demand to bring some of that natural habitat indoors. It created a demand for buildings and interiors that promote physical and mental health, in part to help tempt back people working from home.
In this article, we’ll explain how biophilic design can provide spaces and experiences that deliver enduring value to your clients.
What are Biophilia and Biophilic Design?
The International Living Future Institute launched the Living Building Challenge certificate in 2006. For a building to receive the award, it needs to perform to standards set across seven “petals” or categories – place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity and beauty.
The launch of the Living Building Challenge award also breathed new life into the biophilia hypothesis.
This is a concept first shared by American psychoanalyst Eric Fromm in 1964. Biophilic design addresses the need of human beings to have a deep and innate connection to nature. It seeks to address our inherent need to be near living systems.
The aim is to evoke the overall well-being we feel when we’re by the seaside or exploring through forests.
The problem is that we spend 90% of our time indoors, often in dull concrete environments. This takes its toll on people hence the rise in common mental health conditions like work-related stress anxiety and depression.
Companies and organisations know this is a problem. Research shows 66% of organisations in the UK have mental health assistance programmes to help their employees. Unhappy employees are less productive and take more time off.
We didn't evolve in a concrete jungle
The vast majority of human evolution did not take place in the urban environment. We came to be who we are around nature.
That evolutionary echo is why natural environments still enhance well-being and provide other important health benefits. By evoking nature in the built environment, biophilic spaces lead to improved creativity, work output, concentration, and more.
Being surrounded by natural shapes and natural patterns has been shown to boost employee happiness and productivity and reduce absenteeism and sickness rates. In medical settings, bringing nature indoors decreases patients’ recovery time in hospitals. In schools, student focus increases.
The presence of even humble organic materials like potted plants in an interior environment makes a positive difference.
Some architects love nature
Count us among them. But, for a long time, modern architects have regarded nature as an obstacle or a trivial consideration. You can see this in the lack of natural light, ventilation, and other natural colours, shapes and materials in their creations in both the built environment and many modern public spaces.
What is your happy place? What does it look like? It probably doesn’t feature grey concrete cages and windowless interiors. You’re most likely to describe vibrant places with natural geometries, potted plants, organic elements, textures and aromas that provoke a myriad of emotions, but above all, pleasure and comfort.
Biophilic design improves people’s quality of life when they’re at home, school or in the office. Biophilic design is a fitting response to the call of the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s (RIBA) in their Guide to Sustainable Performance for functional, restorative and inspiring spaces.
Let’s look at the natural features, principles and experiences that biophilic design addresses 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 and green walls. It’s also about water features, light, and even the changes that we see over the seasons in our natural forms and materials.
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 green space around the house received plenty of natural sunlight. Natural sunlight releases dopamine in the brain, elevating the mood of future occupants.
The creative interplay of light and shadow by interior designers allows natural light to take aesthetically pleasing forms. And the use of glass walls and skylights, reflective colours and materials and other design strategies brings natural light into interior spaces.
Humans need access to natural ventilation for their comfort and productivity. Variations in natural airflow patterns in airflow, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure can enhance the experience of natural ventilation in the built environment.
Operable windows can be used to achieve these conditions as well as more complex engineering and technological solutions. You can introduce fresh air into the interior space of a building in a controlled manner by optimising the number, size and location of vents. This leads to a significant improvement in indoor air quality which is particularly welcome on long, hot summer days.
Natural landscapes and ecosystems
We visit places like the Eden Project because it’s pleasurable to experience a self-sustaining ecosystem. We feel somehow back where we should be because of its rich biological diversity and the natural rhythms of nutrient cycling, pollination, and decomposition.
Views, observation platforms, direct interaction, and even active participation can facilitate contact with natural systems. That’s what we had in mind with our design of Eden House, to be located in the Green Belt. We decided to maintain wildlife corridors and provide a controlled environment for vegetation and biodiversity that visitors can enjoy. The building itself is a luxury, beautiful, functional but ultimately ecological attachment to its surroundings.
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 made from local timber 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 an outdoor space with a centre “embraced” by trees. And to evoke the texture of wood on the façade, we used metal strips and coloured ceramics.
Most natural materials evoke positive visual and tactile responses, something only a handful of 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 images of 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 and green roofs to plant motifs on building façades to animal facsimiles in fabrics and furnishings.
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
Spatial features of the natural environment positively influence 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, natural lighting, elevated planes and spaces where you feel secure and from which you look over a landscape reduces 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:
Homes and estates with biophilic views have a greater kerb appeal, attract more buyers, and command higher rental prices. Most buyers are willing to pay more for offices that have been created with biophilic design principles in mind.
Boost in sales
Natural elements in the retail environment calm and soothe us psychologically which leads to greater purchase volumes. Stores that feature 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 want 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 in comparison to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. They prefer working environments designed for collaboration and integration where they can connect with each other.
Biophilic design is people-centric. Putting human needs at the forefront of workplace design delivers better staff retention rates and lower absenteeism rates, especially among Millennials and Gen Zers.
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. For examples of this, look at the London offices of Google, Spotify, Bloomberg and Deloitte.
Effective use of natural light, sunlight, and natural ventilation reduces your property’s energy consumption, important at a time of record utility prices. Reducing your reliance on electricity and fossil fuels contributes to reversing climate change.
How WindsorPatania can help you set new standards
We want to make high-tech sustainable architecture easy for our clients. Our designs are based on the principles of a people-centred approach, sustainability and contextualisation.
If you want to include biophilic space in your offices and commercial locations as part of your company’s wellness strategy, we’re ready to make it a reality.
We 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 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 you’re seeking a partner on a luxury residential project, we have the expertise you need 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.