A call back to nature: biophilic architecture and design

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Green wall in the foyer of the One Central Park display centre.

Green wall in the foyer of the One Central Park display centre.

How can an inanimate building possibly influence the health, happiness and efficiency of its inhabitants? The answer is a surprisingly simple one, and no, we are not talking about a new type of wiz-bang intuitive technology that knows what you want before you do. We are talking about the simple idea of reconnecting with nature, or more specifically biophilia, a term that is becoming increasingly synonymous with modern day architecture and design.

The term ‘biophilia’ was first used in 1964 by psychologist, Erich Fromm as a way to describe a human attraction to nature. The term was then taken to the next level by Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist, EO Wilson Green who described biophilia as the instinctive human need to connect with nature. Biophilic design embraces the idea that human’s have a biological need to connect with the natural world and applies this principle to modern architecture in a practical and beautiful way.

Self-sustaining living wall with an exterior dressing of charcoal concrete finish (Pandomo)

Self-sustaining living wall with an exterior dressing of charcoal concrete finish (Pandomo)

By incorporating organic elements to a building design such as the addition of live greenery, natural light and organic surfaces and textures, can make a building’s inhabitants both happier and healthier. Simple additions such as green walls and natural finishes can have a positive psychological impact on the human mind, which is not surprising considering that we need natural elements such a water and air to both survive and thrive.

Buildings that have put biophilic principles into practice have shown some fascinating results, particularly in the workplace. A recent study co-authored by Professor Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, monitored workplace productivity, concentration and workplace satisfaction in two large commercial firms in the UK and the Netherlands. The study found that an office simply enriched with plants made staff happier, which in turn improved productivity by 15 per cent.

Future of work: how NAB is creating tomorrow's workplace today

Future of work: how NAB is creating tomorrow’s workplace today

One example of the rise in biophilic consciousness in design is illustrated by the NAB Head Office building in Bourke Street, Sydney, which has implemented a rooftop garden landscape complete with a herb garden and outdoor kitchen for NAB employees to enjoy throughout their workday.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between biophilic design and the commonly referred to ‘green’ design, in that ‘green’ design focuses more on environmental conservation, whereas biophilic design is more concerned with health and wellbeing. The benefits of biophilic architecture do however have long-term environmental benefits as well.

Horizon Media Office. Letting nature in.

Horizon Media Office. Letting nature in.

By consciously designing buildings with less heat-absorbing surfaces and more natural shade and ventilation results in less energy usage, which helps to improve the growing ‘urban heat island effect’.

These proven benefits have given rise to a need for widespread biophilic urbanism, in which biophilic values are applied to urban development planning, as shown with The 202020 Vision, an alliance between government, academic and private-sectors that aims to increase urban green space by 20 per cent by the year 2020. This would then have a flow on affect in improving the local Australian environment, productivity and community.

At Interface we see biophilic design as an exciting opportunity to cultivate a relationship with the natural world that will have positive effects on our health, happiness and wellbeing. Nature is something we are constantly inspired by at Interface, so it makes perfect sense to surround our selves with the wonders of natural beauty in our built environments.


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