Biophilic design

More than just plants

Biophilic design

More than just plants

Biophilia, in its essence, is the fondness for life. Popularised by Professor Emeritus Wilson from Harvard University with his Biophilia Hypothesis, he argues that humans have an attraction to other living organisms. This hypothesis emerged from realising that people migrating into urban cities the 1980s would have created some form of societal disconnect with the natural world. To compensate for such a disconnect, we often try to bring nature back into the city.

But biophilic design is more than adding greenery into our living spaces. This is where Kellert’s Biophilic Design Framework helps designers put theory into practice. This framework introduces three attributes and experiences of biophilic design; direct experience of nature, the indirect experience of nature and the experience of space and place.

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

The High Line Park, NYC

The most prominent feature of biophilic design is the direct experience of nature, such as light, air, weather and even fire. One example is Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright, which integrates a weekend house into its natural surroundings over a waterfall. A more recent example is the High Line, which transformed a 2.4km unused railway track into a park in New York.

The second aspect of biophilic design is the indirect experience of nature, such as the use of natural materials, natural colours and naturalistic shapes and form. Toyo Ito demonstrated this principle in Tod’s Omotesando, where the building facade mimics the silhouette of trees.

Tod's, Omotesando

Park Royal on Pickering, Singapore

The final aspect is the experience of space and place, such as transitional spaces and refuge. Unlike the previous two aspects, this refers to spatial characteristics one might find in a natural environment. WOHA exemplified these principals in Park Royal, with cavernous like walls along its pathways and vantage viewpoints from the comfort of the bath. 

While these biophilic principles seem to provide quality design aesthetics, they also have been shown to improve occupant wellbeing.

Biophilic design research

A study by Yin from Harvard University showed that participants who spent time in a biophilic environment recorded a 14% improvement in a direct-attention performance, which indicates a positive impact on short-term working memory. In a subsequent study, Yin also showed participants in a biophilic space recorded a drop in blood pressure, heart rate and skin conductance, suggesting that biophilic spaces can help reduce stress levels. These studies show that biophilic spaces can have positive health benefits, not just on daily performance but even on recovery as well.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

A prominent study in the 1980s by Prof Ulrich from Harvard University revealed that views of nature may have a positive effect on a patient’s road to recovery.

In this study, 23 patients allocated to rooms with windows overlooking a natural scene had 8.5% shorter postoperative stay than patients of the same surgery in rooms with windows facing a brick wall. 

A more recent example is the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore. In an article by Professor Newman from Curtin University, anecdotal evidence showed that hospital patients were happier and healing quicker, whereas physiological measures showed a drop in blood pressure and heart rate when an occupant entered the biophilic environment. 

Even images of nature can help recover from mental fatigue, as evident in the study by psychologist Berto from the Università di Padova. Participants exposed to restorative environments scored better in visual sensitivity, reaction time and accuracy in an attention test than participants who were not. This indicates that an indirect experience of nature can help individuals recover from mental fatigue quicker.

Now that you know what biophilic design can offer occupants, you can stop feeling guilty about your impulse purchases at the next houseplant sale.

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Here at Beulah, our projects are driven by investigating thinking and the pursuit for design and research innovation. Through these insights, we create transformational spaces and experience for present and future generations.

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