The benefits of connecting to the natural world

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What if our built environment could enhance our well-being?  What if our built environment could enhance our capacity to care for the well-being of our planet?  Biophilic Design holds the promise of unlocking both of these possibilities.

In his seminal book, Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life, Dr. Stephen Kellert defines biophilic design as “building and landscape design that enhances human physical and mental well-being by fostering positive connections between people and nature.”

Not to be confused with a specific “natural” or “organic” aesthetic, biophilic design is a defined design methodology with proven benefits for human performance and well-being.  To this end Kellert and other practitioners have distilled Six Principles of Biophilic Design to guide designers in reliably producing this “biophilic effect.”

Biophilic Design and Well Being

Why is it that when we imagine a place of inspiration, beauty, and respite, we nearly always think of a place in nature?  Our brains and bodies evolved over tens of thousands of years without buildings, and we now realize that we are at our best when we can recreate physical and psychological reminders of our most ancient home.

There’s some exciting scientific evidence of the benefits of biophilic design:

Cut Absenteeism:

Avoidable absenteeism costs millions of dollars annually. Terrapin Bright Green tracked a study linking a 10% difference in absenteeism rates between two sides of a building. (The one with nature views won.)
Attract and Retain:
A Manhattan bank was designed so that 90% of employees had fabulous views of parks, green roofs, or rivers. The building became a recruiting tool (and perk) that paid off for HR.
Save Millions:
Calculations show reducing the average length of stay in hospitals today by 0.41 days can amount to $93 million in reduced hospital costs every year, and Biophilic Design strategies are proven to reduce length of stay.
Biophilic design and sustainability:
At Interface, we believe biophilic design represents a potential turn-around strategy for our species.  We see an opportunity to help reconnect us to the web of life, and cultivate a profound relationship with nature, even in an increasingly urbanized and virtual world.

There are six Principles of Biophilic Design:

1. Environmental Features:

Bringing well-recognized characteristics of the natural world into the built environment: Color, water, air, sunlight, plants, animals and natural materials.
2. Natural Shapes and Forms:
Botanical, animal and shell motifs. Shapes resisting straight lines and right angles. Arches and vaults and domes (architecture that evokes emotion).
3. Natural Patterns and Processes:
Varying the sensory experience of a space with time, change, and transitions; complimentary contrasts, the play between balance and tension; rhythm, ratios and use of scale.
4. Light and Space:
Learning how and why humans react to light in all its forms (warm, cool, shaped, filtered, diffused, inside vs. outside) informs us how to use it. The same applies to differing kinds of spaces: Shaped, harmonious, jarring, light and dark, etc.

5. Place-Based Relationships:

The significance of place is tied to meaning: Historic, cultural, geographic, spiritual, or ecological. With deeper understanding, we can honor and evoke those relationships within the built environment.
6. Evolved Human-Nature Relationships
We have been transformed by our complex relationship with Nature, and we still react strongly to the echoes of our long history. We can use design to evoke these powerful reminders, such as Prospect and Refuge; Order and Complexity; Curiosity and Enticement; Mastery and Control; Affection and Attachment; Security and Protection; Exploration and Discovery; Information and Cognition; Fear and Awe.


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