Biophilic Design

What is Biophilic Design?

Biophilic Design

As we continue to fill our homes with screens and gadgets, and our cities with concrete and paved roads, we begin to lose sight – literally – of the natural world around us. In an effort to combat this transformation, architects are adopting a concept known as biophilia – “an  innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.”

Biophilia describes our inherent connection with nature. It is not coincidence that being in nature and interacting with our local environments, as gardeners often do, provides a sense of calm and peacefulness. Throughout history, humanity has lived in permanent interaction with the natural world. As the construction of cities took priority around the world in the 20th century, this interaction has been slowly severed, impacting people’s health and wellbeing. Biophilic design, a principle used by architects and builders across the world, attempts to bring the construction of urban areas in line with our innate desire and need to be in nature. The term was only recently introduced, but the concept itself has many principles we are familiar with. Stephen Kellert, leader in the concept and practice of biophilic design, outlines three ways designers can improve human connections  to nature:

Physical experience

The first is the direct experience of nature. This involves physically experiencing natural features around us. Gardeners will jump to plants first, but it incorporates many other parts of nature, including sunlight, clean air, water and wildlife. Light orientates us and provides many benefits for our mental health. Air also influences our comfort through conditions like temperature and humidity. Water, an essential sensory element in gardens, has an undeniable calming ability that is scientifically proven to decrease stress. Indirect experience The second pillar is the indirect experience of nature. Indirect relates to interactions with representations of nature, rather than nature itself. This could be through images or art, or natural materials like wood and stone. These trigger similar positive responses in our brains and bodies, creating the feeling that we are closer to the natural world – even in urban environments. Natural colours – blues, greens, browns and other earth tones – and shapes that emulate nature are also employed to round off the design. Biomimicry also falls under this principle; a strategy of solving design problems that looks to the problem- solving techniques of the natural world for inspiration.

Nature in the space

The final principle is the experience of space and place. This principle encourages designers to use space to enhance wellbeing, taking cues from the kinds of spaces available in nature. Making interior spaces feel private and comforting through the use of materials and dim lighting, while making exterior spaces feel open and spacious, are just a few of the many ways to consider spatial relationships under this pillar. When it comes to city planning, biophilic designers don’t only focus on humans’ appreciation of nature. They also aim to design a space that encourages people to interact with and care for their surrounding environment. Considerations like distance from natural open spaces such as parks, as well as avenues to use and spend time in those spaces, are paramount. So, what does this mean for gardeners, homeowners or even apartment renters? While we may not be involved in planning cities or designing buildings, we can also employ these principles in our own spaces to improve our mental health, taking us away from screens and toward nature. There are a million ways to get started, from hanging up a painting of a landscape to dotting a few houseplants around your home. Start by taking a look at your space. Assess whether there are any bare corners that feel stark or off balance, then use natural materials and plants to modify that space in a way that replicates what we see in nature. In the garden, choose plants suitable for your region that blend into the surrounding environment rather than standing out unnaturally. Replace some badly performing plants, or a patch of lawn that constantly gives you trouble, with a range of pollinator-friendly plants to make your garden feel livelier. It doesn’t have to involve a complete home and garden overhaul. Even the smallest change can make a difference to your health and wellbeing.

City planners embraced the pillars of biophilic design and built a city park free to the public in the sky with 360-degree views of the city. The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden, where visitors can enjoy not only the view but also lush greenery, landscaped gardens, observation decks, and an open-air terrace. You’ll even find some of our local plants imported into the gardens like Agapanthus species, Kniphofias and Strelitzia reginae.

The Gardener