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Biophilic design concept

Biophilic Design: Bringing Nature Indoors with Your Remodel

In this age of urbanization and technology, the disconnect between humans and the natural world becomes ever more apparent. Pollution, deforestation, wildfires, land degradation, ocean pollution, and the loss of biodiversity are just some of the consequences of our disconnection with nature.

In the 1980s, the world was beginning to realize the effects of depression, distraction, negative feelings about life, and aches and pains occurring in urban areas, where the high demand for real estate had created communities that were “green poor”. Dr. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D. a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, identified a nature deficit disorder in society, that can be significantly improved by just a few hours of what he called “forest bathing”.

Richard Louv introduced the term Nature-Deficit Disorder® in 2005 with the publication of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv wrote, “Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. Without that connection to nature, people lose interest in protecting it and fail to see how connected it is to our lives — our food sources, our climate, our quality of life.”

In his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, published in 1973, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm introduced the word “Biophilia” to describe the “passionate love of life and of all that is alive…whether in a person, a plant, an idea, or a social group”.

Edward O. Wilson released the book Biophilia in 1986, in which he argues that our natural affinity for life―biophilia―is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species, coining the term “Biophilia hypothesis”.

Biophilic design encourages social interaction and engagement, creating spaces that facilitate meaningful connections and shared experiences.

Direct experience of nature: bringing the outdoors in

One of the fundamental principles of biophilic design is the incorporation of ‘direct nature’ elements into our built environment. Natural materials, such as wood, stone, terracotta, rattan and leather can be integrated into the architectural features and furnishings. They provide a sense of authenticity and warmth – the feel of wood grain, the texture of stone, the smell of leather – deepening our tactile and visual connections to the natural world. Using natural, renewable materials also tends to cultivate an appreciation for the natural world, encouraging more sustainable practices.

Indoor plants not only improve the air quality in our homes, by filtering our pollutants but also contribute to a sense of calm and rejuvenation. Studies have shown that exposure to greenery indoors can reduce stress, boost productivity, and enhance our mood. The biophilic connection to nature that indoor plants provide can have a grounding and soothing effect. For many, caring for indoor plants provides a sense of purpose and responsibility.

Architectural features such as large windows and skylights bathe our living spaces with natural light. Light can cause natural patterns, form, movement and shadows. Natural light has been linked to numerous health benefits, including better sleep and circadian rhythm, a boost in focus and alertness, increased vitamin D production, a reduced risk of seasonal depression, a reduction of eye fatigue and strain, and improved mood. Sunlight also helps inhibit the growth of mould and mildew in your home. As a side benefit, homes with abundant natural light are typically perceived to have more value in the real estate market.

Fresh air provided by natural ventilation or a mechanical system, humidity and temperature help us feel comfortable, energized and productive. Incorporating water, with wetlands, pools, fountains, and aquariums can decrease stress and increase vitality, particularly in people who have a strong connection with water.

Indirect experience of nature: mimicking nature’s patterns and processes

In addition to incorporating direct nature elements, biophilic design seeks to mimic nature’s patterns and processes indirectly through design principles such as fractals, biomimicry, and natural geometries.

Fractals are self-repeating patterns found in nature, such as those seen in tree branches, crystals, and cell structures. They can be integrated into architectural elements such as ceilings, floors, and walls, to create visual interest and complex, organic-looking structures and forms. Fractal architecture is a way to create buildings and spaces that are more connected to the natural world.

Biomimicry involves emulating nature’s forms, processes, and systems to solve human design challenges. Architects will draw inspiration from the shapes, geometries, and organizational principles found in nature, such as the structures of honeycomb cells, flowers, soap bubbles, bird nests, or the airflow patterns of termite mounds. Biomimetic observations can inspire out-of-the-box solutions that push the boundaries of architectural design.

Natural geometries are often organized in hierarchical scales, similar to patterns observed in nature, like the “golden ratio” and “Fibonacci sequence”. These proportions, which are found abundantly in nature, resonate with our perceptual preferences.

The geometries in biophilic design tend to be curvilinear, or sinuous shapes and forms, that are adaptive and responsive to environmental forces, rather than rigid, rectilinear geometries. The use of natural geometries allows designers to create visually interesting, varied patterns that provide a sense of unity and coherence.

Natural materials such as wood and stone, natural fabrics, leather and furnishings, can stimulate our minds, particularly when they take on a patina over the years. Natural colours are the subdued brown, green and blue earth tones commonly found in nature.

We are drawn to complexity in both our natural and built environments, but excessive complexity can be overwhelming, confusing and even chaotic. The most satisfying spaces tend to possess qualities of complexity, but they are experienced in an orderly and organized way. Organized complexity is achieved when the disparate parts come together to form an integrated whole. Design strategies such as hierarchically organized scales, self-repeating but varying patterns, and the integration of different spatial elements and geometries are utilized to achieve organized complexity.

Space and place

Beyond the physical attributes of a space, biophilic design also considers the psychological and emotional aspects of your experience, so your architect or designer can craft spatial layouts that can evoke feelings of refuge, prospect, and mystery to provide a sense of connection and belonging.

Refuge spaces are characterized by their sense of enclosure and security. They give you a sense of safety and comfort, while not feeling confined or claustrophobic. These spaces may include alcoves, niches, or cozy seating areas with dimmer lighting, where you can retreat and unwind. Refuge can be achieved with balconies, floors, walls, and ceilings, but it can also be created with furniture.

Creating refuge spaces within larger environments gives you opportunities to enjoy moments of quiet introspection and relaxation. Refuge spaces can be necessary to achieve focus and perform certain tasks well, providing physical or acoustical separation from busier surrounding areas.

To be effective, refuge spaces should be balanced with prospect spaces.

Prospect spaces offer expansive views and opportunities for visual exploration. The strategically placed windows or outdoor vistas of prospect views invite you to connect with your surroundings and experience a sense of expansiveness, curiosity and wonder.

Providing prospect often requires a level of protection, to relieve stress and heighten our awareness. A spectacular view of the valley below from a second-story window, for example, may benefit from a credenza placed in front of the window, to provide a perceived sense of safety as the body presses against the solid object.

Mystery spaces are characterized by their sense of ambiguity and intrigue. These spaces spark the imagination and encourage exploration. They may include hidden pathways, obscured views, or dynamic lighting effects that invite you to discover and interpret your surroundings. By introducing elements of surprise and discovery, biophilic design can stimulate cognitive engagement.

Biophilic design can create spaces that offer a deep sense of connection and belonging among household members. By integrating elements of nature, and mimicking natural patterns and processes, biophilic design can transcend the physical realm to engage with your psychological and emotional needs.

Merging your biophilic remodel with your outdoor living space

On British Columbia’s West Coast, we’re often kept indoors by the rain. By creating an easy flow between your indoor and outdoor spaces, you can extend your living area and biophilic environment when the sun comes out, allowing you to connect directly with nature simply by sliding open the door(s).

Blurring the boundaries between the two spaces allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds. By incorporating greenery and matching the level of the floor and natural light indoors, you can create seamless transitions between your indoor and outdoor spaces.

Key benefits

Biophilic design offers a holistic approach to creating environments that promote health, happiness, and well-being. By incorporating natural elements such as plants, water, and daylight into your interior space, its principles can enhance your home’s air quality, regulate humidity levels, and promote overall wellness.

Studies have shown that exposure to nature indoors can reduce stress, boost immune function, and improve cognitive performance, leading to happier, healthier, more connected lives.

The takeaway

At its core, biophilic design recognizes that we all have an innate affinity for nature. By bringing elements of the natural world into your built environment, your designer can evoke feelings of comfort, familiarity, and belonging.

As our world becomes even more urbanized and technologically driven, biophilic design offers a path toward reconnecting with the natural world and enhancing our well-being, transforming living spaces into environments that nourish the body, mind, and soul.

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