Many built environments are becoming devoid of natural elements such as plants, water and sunlight. But can we sustain a happy, healthy and satisfying existence in settings such as these? For most people, the answer is no, because nature provides one of our greatest sources of mental and physical rejuvenation. As a result, there is an increasing interest in biophilic design for homes, public spaces, schools and workplaces.
Biophilia is the scientific term for the feel-good aspect of spending time in nature. It was popularised by Edward O. Wilson, who explains that our positive emotional connection with the natural world is a direct result of our evolution. Given that humans evolved in the natural world and are still adapting to life in built environments, we experience a number of benefits when we maintain contact with nature.
Biophilic design helps to fulfil this need by integrating elements such as plants, natural materials and water into built environments. We have traditionally designed cities with little regard for natural spaces – save for parks – yet by thinking of nature and the urban environment as one, we can create more liveable urban settings that benefit both humans and the planet.
As garden designers, we see the positive effects of nature on a daily basis, both personally and through the experiences of the clients we work with. City living has a number of advantages and research is now showing that with the right mix of natural elements, our immediate surroundings have the potential to make us happier, healthier and even more productive at work.
Elements of biophilic design
Biophilic design is a holistic way of integrating nature into our daily lives. In order to create stimulating, engaging spaces that positively impact us, this method of design utilises the following elements:
Views of nature and landscapes
Organic shapes, patterns, textures and forms
Images of nature
Breakout spaces for relaxation
Paying attention to these elements in the design process of any space – whether indoor or outdoor – will have a profound impact on its liveability. One design technique we advocate is linking indoor and outdoor areas at home as much as possible, so that they feel like a natural extension from one another. This results in functional spaces that draw you outside more often and still allow you to enjoy your outdoor area even when you are indoors.
Benefits of biophilic design
A number of recent studies from around the world have confirmed the positive associations between humans and nature. Benefits of increased exposure to the natural world include improved health, productivity and creativity, as well as the creation of more sustainable cities.
Health and wellbeing
The incidence of stress-related conditions is rising, with the World Health Organisation estimating that conditions such as anxiety and depression will be the second-most prevalent form of illness by 2020. This is after heart disease, which can also be exacerbated by stress. Various studies have shown that there is a favourable relationship between exposure to nature and lower levels of stress. This has a positive impact on our health, both physically and mentally.
Related reading: Why nature is good for your health
Increased job satisfaction
With the presence of plants, natural air and light, and views out to plants or landscaped spaces, offices can become spaces where employees enjoy spending time. The presence of these elements helps with concentration, creativity, productivity and has even been linked with staff retention. With Google now adopting biophilic designfor its new headquarters, it’s likely we will start to see more companies embracing this approach (though perhaps on a slightly more modest scale).
Related reading: Biophilic design at work: Why we need greener office spaces
The more removed we are from the natural world, the harder it is to fully appreciate our reliance on nature. By increasing our exposure to nature, we can begin to experience more empathy for the vital role it plays in sustaining us. Bridging this divide will also help to counteract the urban heat island effect, which has seen the average temperatures of cities steadily increase. It is estimated that more green spaces in cities could lower city temperatures by up to eight degrees, which will reduce our reliance on air conditioning.
Related reading: Why we need greener cities
Want to reap the benefits of nature and biophilic design in your outdoor area? Ask us how we can help.