Why is Biophilic Design important?
Many of us live in a world where we drift from concrete offices to mechanical vehicles. Brick homes to manmade shopping malls. Glued to our smartphone when we’re not in front of the computer screen. But there is that moment, perhaps on a lunch break walk, or at the weekend when we’re drawn to the local park, seeking out that brief escape from our day-to-day surroundings. This escape can be offered by the grass and the trees, the sunlight and the fresh air.
What is biophilic design?
When it comes to the rise of the biophilic design trend, it is about so much more than just aesthetics. As humans, we have a primal and deep need for nature. But we often neglect this when designing the spaces and places that we live, shop and work in. We design our surroundings in a way that alienates ourselves from nature and often destroys it in the process.
American biologist Edward O. Wilson described biophilia as ‘an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.’ The use of biophilic design puts this concept of biophilia into action by creating environments that feed our inherent need to connect with nature.
There is growing research that reveals that the spaces we inhabit have a direct impact on our physiological and psychological wellbeing. This is linked to research concluding that biophilic experiences can improve cognitive function and enhance moods while decreasing stress – it’s no wonder the use of biophilic design in on the up.
So, whether you’re a retailer, a healthcare provider or a workspace, how can you incorporate biophilic design into your space and what benefits might it have?
‘The Dark Side of Retailing’ study published by the Journal of Business Research found that 10% of shoppers enter a store in a negative mind state. This negativity will then have an effect on how much a shopper will spend and if they’ll associate their stressful experience with your store. By creating an atmosphere within the store that is proven to reduce stress and enhance positivity, it is possible to alter a shopper’s mood and create a more enjoyable shopping experience. This can be done by the use of natural lighting and materials or greenery, to create a relaxing environment where a shopper is more likely to slow down and spend longer in store.
H&M’s recently refurbished store in Hammersmith opened in December last year as part of the company’s sustainability push. In keeping with the sustainable mission of this store, they have diverted away from their usual store design and opted for biophilic design. They chose natural building materials like flagstone flooring, live trees and plants throughout the store and added a permanent florist shop. You get the feeling of an escape to an Italian courtyard, and it’s a pleasure just to walk around the store, which has led to a boom in foot-fall.
Apple has recently opened new stores across the globe in Italy, Macau and Singapore (to name a few) that heavily incorporate natural elements. With the use of large glass facades and skylights to offer an abundance of natural light, materials like Castagno stone, large bamboo groves and real trees unfold throughout the stores.
In the workplace
Exeter University ran a series of studies that revealed employees were up to 15% more productive when working in an environment that had a number of houseplants. Introducing elements of nature into the office can provide a relaxing and restful environment for employees while proving to enhance creativity, reduce stress and increase mental well-being.
Seeing as the average Brit spends around 18,000 hours a year at work, the simple addition of some plants or natural lighting to a working space could be a simple investment to increase productivity and team spirit.
There are some environments, such as certain hospital wards, where having plants is either impractical or not possible. But that shouldn’t mean you can’t create a space that incorporates natural elements, and this is doable within a variety of healthcare settings.
Studies have shown significant healing benefits for healthcare patients, particularly those staying in a hospital, when immersed in environments that includes principles of biophilia in their design.
Stress is known as a major factor for patients in hospitals. It has been shown that when a patient has access to a window in their room, with a view of nature, their stay in hospital is shorter, with cases of a reduced volume of pain medication being dispensed and an overall improvement in health and wellbeing.
Other ways of incorporating nature within a building could be with natural light or having large windows that allow in warm sunlight rather than the sterile brightness of medical strip lighting. Using wall graphics or artificial plants, which can work just as well as real plants to enhance the feeling of wellbeing, can help. Or natural colours and materials, woods and stones can make a big difference to how people feel, offering a more holistic healing process in a medical environment. Patient satisfaction can improve in biophilic healthcare settings. And let’s not forget the potential benefits for our overstretched clinical staff too.
There are so many benefits to be gained from the use of biophilic design. The use of plants can improve the air quality. Natural light and materials can reduce stress and help make people feel happy and healthier. An increase in workers creativity and productivity. Faster healing rates for the unwell.
It is undeniable that biophilic design is more than just an aesthetic trend and a concept that all architects and designers should bear in mind when designing the retail, workplace and healthcare environments of the future.