The Blossoming of Biophilic Design

As the world becomes more urbanised, nature will be pushed to the fringes. Biophilic design - the mimicking of natural forms - will sate our deep craving for a connection to nature, and help improve people's quality of life.

As the world becomes more urbanised, nature will be pushed to the fringes.

Biophilic design - the mimicking of natural forms - uses nature as inspiration to create human-friendly environments that satisfy our deep psychological craving for a connection to nature, and help improve people's quality of life.

"Health professionals are increasingly aware of the impact on mental, emotional and physical wellbeing for city-dwellers - Compared to country-dwellers with access to nature."

"Pioneers in this emerging discipline say that good biophilic design draws from nature in a manner that is equally inspirational and restorative without disturbing the functionality of the space to which it is integral."

"Biophilic design is equally applicable to interiors. Environments which are cramped or dark, or in which people spend their daylight hours, are ideal for the application of effective biophilic design."

"The industry has only scratched the surface of this fascinating field of design, and its potential for making a difference to city-dwellers' quality of life is enormous."

Looking Back

Three years ago, Biophilic design was a nascent discipline, with most of the attention it gained focused on a handful of flagship projects. Typically 'biomimicry' was seen as an architectural technique to introduce 'natural forms' into the spaces we share using constructed objects.

It's been interesting to watch biophilic design develop - in both interior and exterior spaces. The emergence of an 'Indoor Generation' trend has seen interior design's use of biophilia drive the search for greater evidence of its benefits.

But the big shift we've seen is towards the use of natural materials and organic-landscaping to recreate, rather than merely mimic, the shapes and patterns of nature in outdoor spaces. Interestingly, it's edging towards Urban Greening as a way of 'naturalising' the built environment.

Where we are now

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson states that: "Humans are hard-wired by our evolutionary biology to be emotionally attracted to the natural world." But our modern behaviour seems to belie that. A 2017 UK survey revealed that the average British Adult spends 92% of their time indoors. This tallies with the 2018 'Indoor Generation Report' which finds that the average US adult spends 21 hours indoors every day (that's about 90%).

Spending a total of 142 hours indoors every week, your average British adult will spend 53 years of their life indoors (according to the Jordans Farm Partnership study in August 2018). 85% of those polled said they would love to spend more time in the open air, but between sleeping, working longer hours shopping and commuting, opportunities to interact with nature are, it seems, increasingly rare. Indeed, 37% of UK adults say they have no connection to wildlife in their everyday life.

Given that living an 'interior life' has been proven to be, literally, depressing, the Building Research Establishment's Biophilic Office project has become the world's first study into the benefits of creating a workplace designed around biophilic principles. By examining lighting, flooring, furniture, green walls, paints, and acoustics, BRE aims to deepen the evidence for the positive impacts of biophilic design. Using its own office refurbishment as a 'living experiment' the two-year study is due to be completed in 2020.

What's changing?

In the Spring of 2018, Jordan Lacey - Research Fellow, Architecture & Design at RMIT University - wrote: "Biophilic design is beginning to boom. Recently theorists have broadened the definition of Biophilia to encompass the benefits of human-nature interaction. Cities everywhere are embracing the change."

Indeed since we were initially intrigued by what was an emerging architectural/design 'fringe' discipline, Biophilic Design has 'blossomed' into a way of rethinking how urban spaces can be landscaped to recreate the look, feel and the random diversity of nature.

Where previously, Biophilic Design relied on 'synthesising' the shapes and textures of nature, the concept of designing a 'second nature' for the urban environment sets landscape designers an interesting challenge: creating what biophilic theorists call 'wildness' - the presence of the unkempt amongst the order of the city: the transformative 'sensory shock' of seeing 'the wildness of nature bursting through the cracks of the urban'.

All of which has seen the emergence of the 'Biophilic Cities' concept. Defined as 'cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites', Biophilic cities meet residents' innate desire to connect with nature by providing opportunities to 'enjoy the multisensory aspects of nature' by protecting and promoting its presence within the city.

How the story has developed