Have you ever wondered why you feel more relaxed and rejuvenated when you are surrounded by nature? It all comes down to biology, and an innate need us humans are said to have to feel connected to nature. This feeling was developed into a hypothesis in the 80s by an American biologist Edward O. Wilson who introduced it in his book Biophilia.
What started to develop from that was biophilic design. Used in the building industry “to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions” biophilic design offers a new set of tools for designers, architects and developers, and also all people interested in improving work performance organizations, to tackle some of the serious issues we face in the current world. The goal is to take all the benefits nature has to offer humans and connect those to the built environment.
It is estimated that we are currently spending more than 90% of our lives indoors so we are talking about a rather significant issue. Though the pandemic has evolved the office environment and introduced hybrid working, the issue remains. We spend a large portion of our day indoors, whether the office is at home or inside an actual office building. So, the question is, how do we create that nature connection that offers us so many benefits, while we are cooped up inside? The answer is biophilic design.
Biophilic design mixes design with scientific data to create environments in which people can thrive. It is not a passing trend but rather a way forward. Its popularity and the knowledge of it, has been accelerated in recent years by four big factors.
- Climate change
- Corona pandemic
- New innovations
- Focus on mental well-being
Biophilic design can be used in a variety of built environments, and it should, because of the long list of benefits it has. The benefits at home, at the office or even in a hospital have been studied and researched and are nowadays known to be wide and varied. Here are some of the benefits you will notice, when you start utilising biophilic design, whether it is at home or at the office.
- Reduced stress levels, lower heart rate
- Improvement of overall mental and physical well-being
- Creativity boost
- Increased productivity of an employee
- Reduction is sick days and absences
- Greater attractiveness of the workplace to current and future employees
- Reduced pollution
- Cleaner air and lower noise levels
Biophilic design is accessible to any individual or company, regardless of the budget or space limitations – you can start with 10€ or 10 000€. While you can make small changes yourself, you should consider asking an expert for help with more substantial changes.
HOW TO INTRODUCE BIOPHILIC DESIGN TO A SPACE?
There are eight basic principles from which you can start. They are seemingly simple, but they are also effective. Some are easier to implement than others and here is where that previously suggested expert can become handy. Also, bear in mind, that local relevance plays a big part. The architecture or the interior should not just blend in with nature, it should blend in with its nature – specifically the surroundings of the project itself. That’s why the same things cannot be replicated all around the world. They should always be adjusted and refocused for the people and project in question. Using local knowledge, materials, colours etc. is a big factor in the success of the project.
- FRESH AIR
Breathing in fresh air not only improves the function of your immune system, but it can also increase your energy levels and uplift your mood. That’s why simply by opening a window, you are already closer to feeling better. At work, increased energy levels are good but at home, try opening the window at night, before going to sleep. The room temperature will drop, and you will sleep better. Most people also find it very relaxing listening to the sounds coming from the window, whether it’s birds singing or the rain creating a calm atmosphere for you to fall asleep in.
When biophilic design is being implemented already at the time of construction the same effects can be recreated with air conditioning. Ideally, the overall air quality should provide comfort and vitality to the user but also give them the possibility of adjusting the thermal conditions based on their own needs and preferences.
2. NATURAL LIGHT
People are happy when the sun is shining, right? Then why not take advantage of this in the space you are in. Furniture should always be placed so that it does not block the light from coming in. At the office, try moving your desk so that you can enjoy the view as well as the natural light. Some things you can only influence during construction or renovation, such as the placement of windows and doors. But other things, like curtains, are an easy way to make the most of the light.
However, in different rooms, you have different priorities. In the living room or at the office you want the light to go everywhere. To give you energy and help you be more efficient. In a bedroom, you should create a darker space. Being heavily exposed to artificial light, especially at night, alters the body’s biological clock. This can affect productivity, appetite and energy levels. You should aim to create a natural light cycle with curtains and blinds. Sheer curtains are perfect for letting the light in during the day, but heavier curtains and blinds are better to indicate to your body when it is time to rest and recuperate from the day.
3. PLANT POWER
Green is one of the most relaxing colours that restores your energy and helps clear your mind. It is no wonder that plants and flowers are said to be so good for your health. According to a study, conducted by University of Exeter (published in 2014), indoor plants boost concentration and productivity as much as 15%. That’s a big improvement.
In addition to boosting your spirits, plants help clean the air. This will result in colleagues and staff in your office being healthier and taking less time off work for sick days.
As said before, local relevance also applies here. Plants should be chosen based on the climate conditions, geographic characteristics, and availability to ensure that the interior is authentically one with its surroundings
4. NATURAL MATERIALS
Biophilic design is heavily connected to sustainability and this element is one of the most important ones to consider. In designing a building or designing just one room in the building, material selection plays a big part of the process. This is where you can make long-lasting ecological and sustainable choices by using natural materials.
Living in a modern society and with consumerism, it is vital to be aware of the consequences when choosing materials. It is always advisable to use natural materials but also look for new and innovative materials. Look up for example Airlite paint or Foresso terazzo timber.
5. COLOUR PALETTE
The nervous system of a human being responds quickly and without hesitation to colours. A soothing neutral colour palette is always a great starting point, and you cannot really go wrong with that. Tonal, earthy colours like beige, brown and terracotta will work in almost any space. Colours are often divided into cold and warm colours. The colder colours, greens and blues are calm, peaceful colours whereas warm colours red, orange and yellow catch our attention and give us energy. So, the main thing to consider is the feeling you want people to have in the space.
Round, asymmetrical, organic shapes and textures serve as strong references to patterns found in nature. Often in interior design how something looks is most important. However, with biophilic design, it is almost as important how something feels as it is how it looks. Curves have been dominating interior design trends during the past couple of years but really date back centuries to when architects first started looking to nature for inspiration.
The human psyche has learned to associate curved visual objects with lack of threat whereas sharp angles create the opposite effect.
In an ideal scenario, the goal would be to get the natural feel and cosiness through curved furniture, curtains would be made of organic textiles, arch-shaped doors and windows, cushions with different patterns and disproportional home décor as an architectural feature.
Several studies have shown that seeing, hearing, or touching water reduces stress, increases tranquillity and concentration and lowers heart rate. Biophilic design aims to touch all senses. A water element can feel tricky to include in built environment, but it is not necessary to install a lake inside the building to reap the benefits. There are many small indoor fountains on the market nowadays that can be placed in a variety of spaces from your own home to the lobby of a big office building.
Probably the easiest way is to have a recording of soothing water sounds. Try to listen to it when you are feeling stressed or when you need to concentrate on what you are doing.
Alongside water, fire is another element that can be used. However, here is where that local relevance really shows. In Nordic countries, for example, fire can be a soothing, warming interior element. People often like to have fireplaces in the house and burn a lot of candles, especially during the long dark winter. Then again in hot countries there is very little need for it. Candles, however, can always be used to create a relaxing atmosphere.
Art can be introduced to a biophilic design project in many ways. It is an easy way to connect a person to nature and can often be one of the cheapest ways to get started. You can choose very literal art e.g., a picture of a leaf. The same leaf can also be represented in an abstract painting with colours or in a sculpture as the shape. In your own home, you can obviously choose your own art and as art is very subjective, it would be best to let employees pick things that really speak to them.
To make the connection stronger, art should connect a person to a place – seaside, forest or even a view of the city. It should also align with the person’s core values whether it’s sustainability or empathy. It could also be something that reminds you of treasured moments spent in nature.
To conclude, biophilic design is a strong tool that can be used to make the office environment better for both the organisation and its employees. By implementing these changes, you are directly influencing employee efficiency, creativity and also the appeal of the workplace. This allows you to achieve dramatic results in performance and employee satisfaction. A biophilic office also makes your company stand out from the competition and becomes more appealing to new recruits. The more you can involve your employees in the decision-making process, the more they will then commit to the company and also benefit from the change. Start building a more collaborative and encouraging office today with the help of biophilic design!