Biophilic Design and It’s Importance for a Sustainable Future

Biophilic Design and It's Importance for a Sustainable Future

There’s a reason we always use the tagline, “let nature be your home”. Have you noticed how a walk in the park can perk up your mood? Or how a quick trip to the great outdoors can lift your spirits?

It’s because we are creatures of nature! We owe our lives to it, and our well-being is inextricably tied to it. And although this unbreakable bond between us has existed forever, we’ve only recently invented a word that defines this connection. Biophilia.

Biophilia is the love of life or living systems. 

There was a time when we were always surrounded by nature and Biophilia didn’t need a word. But after centuries of rampant urbanization, we’ve been left with cement blocks, steel buildings, and massive cities across the world.

The divide between man and nature is stark. But it doesn’t mean that we are doomed to live, study and work in dull, concrete buildings with no greenery! There is a way to blend architecture with nature!

This holistic concept has been gaining popularity among architects and city planners. It’s called ‘Biophilic Design!’

What Is Biophilic Design?

Before understanding Biophilic Design, let’s look at the meaning behind ‘Biophilia’. This word was created by Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst who defined it as a ‘passionate love for all that is alive, where it’s a plant, a person, an idea or a social group”. Biophilia proposes that all humans have an innate instinct to love nature – it’s hard to argue with that. Don’t we all, deep down, long to spend time in lush greenery?

A natural corollary to Biophilia is Biophilic Design – a concept that uses architecture to create human spaces that increase our connection with nature and enhance our well-being. This strategy looks to incorporate natural processes and elements into our everyday environments and infrastructure. Biophilic Design can not only be applied at a building level, but also at a project, community, or city level. 

Photo by Tommy Kwak on Unsplash

The 3 Major Principles of Biophilic Design

Pioneers Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese have created a framework with three different dimensions for Biophilic Design. According to them, these principles show how incorporating nature into the built environment can satisfy human wants, show respect to nature, and enrich our environment.

Direct Nature Experiences

The direct nature experiences aspect of Biophilic Design is exactly what it sounds like. It allows us to interact directly with green elements in our built environment! This could mean experiencing elements like natural light, plants, water features, and fresh air first-hand, even when you’re inside the building. Indoor natural landscapes like gardens and rivulets fall under this dimension of Biophilic Design.

Directly interacting with these natural elements adds comfort and relaxation, while keeping our biological clock oriented to the day-night cycle. From homes, offices, hospitals to educational buildings, adding direct nature experiences can be beneficial for everyone.

You can add a direct nature experience to your home pretty easily by adding a few plants around or with a table top mini garden from Green Up the City!

Using Indirect Nature Experiences in Biophilic Design

Biophilic design also uses indirect nature experiences to enhance our well-being and comfort. Indirect experiences include using natural earthy colors in the design, natural materials like wood, earth and even incorporating paintings, videos, and sculptures representing nature!

Using design elements with natural shapes and geometries also helps mimic natural spaces. This could mean using more flowing, gentle slopes, and geometries rather than harsh, straight angles. Or it could mean adding a few crystal elements from a trusted source like Mapu minerals in spaces that feel like they could use a natural touch.

Experience of Space and Place

This aspect of Biophilic Architecture describes designing various spaces that can play a role in improving our well-being.

One of the key elements of this aspect is called, “prospect and refuge.” Simply put, prospect and refuge tell us why certain environments help us feel both physically and psychologically secure! Ever seen a cat find a small nook in a room to sit and observe from? Well, humans are not all that different! 

These types of spaces help us prospect (observe) without being seen (refuge). Designing an office or college building to have a number of sheltering spaces and nooks in a built environment is great for letting people spend time and work by themselves. This could be especially helpful for introverts who enjoy the creativity and energy that comes with solitude. 

Other elements of “space and place” include designing complex spaces to stimulate creativity, adding transitional zones that connect indoors with outdoors, marking clear points of access (entry and exits), or incorporating the area’s geographic and ecological history.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Why Is Biophilic Design Important? 3 Key Benefits Of This Approach. 

Almost instinctively, we know that any infrastructure that welcomes nature within its design is good for us, of course. Here are some of the direct benefits that biophilic design can have.

Health Benefits

Many studies have shown that including plants, water features, and other natural elements in a built environment can reduce stress. It can also increase pain tolerance and improve mental health. A 2014 study showed that elements such as nature’s sounds improved mental well-being by as much as 37% as compared to ambient urban noise. Another scientific experiment revealed that when surgery patients were exposed to organic aromatherapy, a whopping 45% of them needed less morphine and 56% asked for fewer painkillers! Children that have grown up in greener neighborhoods have been found to have lower levels of asthma. 

Wait, it gets even better! Research has shown that biophilic cities were found to have higher levels of social connectivity, mental health, and quality of life! They also tend to have lower crime rates, levels of aggression, and violence. Plus, cities with ‘green gyms’ or outdoor gyms have been proven to build social connectivity, physical health, and mental well-being.

Environmental Benefits

Using Biophilic Design can increase biodiversity, reduce carbon footprint, and help conserve natural resources. Adding natural elements like green roofs, plants, trees, and gardens in and around buildings can help us better manage and filter out stormwater runoff since green spaces allow for the water to seep in and recharge the groundwater levels, unlike impervious surfaces such as concrete.  

Adding green facades and roofs keeps the surroundings naturally cooler in comparison. This can reduce cooling and heating needs by as much as 25% and they protect buildings from sun damage. Green roofs also encourage biodiversity by the nesting of a vibrant variety of birds, bees, and butterflies!

Economic Benefits

Biophilic design may involve relatively higher upfront costs because of higher price organic materials and higher maintenance needs. However, its perceived health and environmental benefits can quickly negate this, both in the short and long run.

Research shows that adding biophilic infrastructure to New York City can save as much as a staggering $470 million in worker productivity and $1.7 billion in decreased crime expenses! Other studies have shown that increasing natural daylight in a store improved sales by almost 40%, and biophilic buildings are currently commanding a 16% higher selling price than conventional buildings.

Is Biophilic Design Sustainable?

Just like everything else in the realm of sustainability, this doesn’t have a clear cut answer. For instance, we’re not proponents of clear cutting forests to build new infrastructure, even if that infrastructure has a biophilic design. However, redesigning existing buildings and infrastructure with our natural connection to nature in mind lends itself beautifully to sustainable efforts.

After centuries of fighting nature and attempting to overcome it, biophilic design gives us the chance to welcome it into our private spaces. By adding natural systems into our urban environment, the lines between cities and nature can be that much blurred. It gives us the opportunity to have a positive impact on climate change with our existing structures.

New Orleans (USA) was built over the Louisiana wetlands, and Mumbai (India) was formed by connecting a network of islands, for example. Sadly, this has caused both the cities to experience heavy flooding – leading to loss of property and life – on a regular basis. This can be avoided if our buildings, communities, and cities are planned with biophilic design to work with the natural structures of our planet. 

By embracing nature at the blueprint stage, biophilic design helps us create holistic, inspiring, and nature-inspired infrastructure. It’s time that mankind starts shaping its infrastructure and overall journey around nature, rather than trying to bend it to its will.

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