Even before the term “biophilia” was popularized by Edward O Wilson, a Harvard biologist and conservationist who published a book of the same name in 1984, architects and designers used their skills to create harmony between nature and humans. Frank Lloyd Wright is a notable example who used wood and stone to create striking architectural silhouettes that are deeply connected to the surrounding landscape.
While rapid urbanization has lost many of us contact with nature, the tide is beginning to turn. Shaken up by political, climatic, social and pandemic pressures, we are now more than ever looking for places to retreat. And symbiotically, those who shape our environment reevaluate old traditions to explore new approaches to harness the power of nature. One such office is Span Architecture, which was founded in 1995 by Karen Stonely and Peter Pelsinski in New York. “Our aim is to connect people with nature through architecture and landscape, and this works on several levels,” says Pelsinski. “There are representational things in which something will look like nature, but there is the literal aspect: How do we use nature in a productive way to create spaces and reconnect people with it? We are very interested in that. “
August Moon is a rural waterfront property in New England, Maine that, despite its modern shape, blends in unobtrusively with the wooded landscape as it is clad in dark wood both inside and out. Over the past 15 years, the studio has also revitalized some of the estate’s original buildings that once belonged to the former owner, American celebrity Brooke Astor. This includes the glazed tea house: an oasis surrounded by trees where the prevailing breezes from the nearby water create natural ventilation to keep it cool. Not only is it beautiful, it is biophilic design in its most functional form.
Letting nature determine the design of a space in a rural setting certainly feels more feasible than in an urban setting, but WOHA, a Singapore-based architecture firm, has been researching and developing new architectural solutions in this area for years. “After populating the cities, we feel like we’re no longer living in harmony with nature,” says co-founder Richard Hassell, who believes that training in Singapore is ahead of them. The city-state began to counteract population density as early as the 1960s by merging with nature, and between 1986 and 2007 increased the island’s share of green spaces from 36 percent to 47 percent. Today it is referred to as the “city in” a garden “and is home to the breathtaking Jewel Changi Airport with the highest indoor waterfall in the world, the 40 m high HSBC Rain Vortex, and the huge, triffid-like supertrees of the central Gardens by the Bay.
WOHA takes a holistic approach to green living. “We’re not only interested in green from a human perspective – it’s not just a roof garden or a green wall here. If I am a bird what do I need to inhabit this area? If I’m a squirrel, can I go into this sky garden? ”He says. The company has developed a rating system that monitors the performance of green spaces at various levels, from the green space ratio (which measures the amount of landscaped areas offered by a building) to the ecosystem contribution index (how they contribute to the livelihood, wellbeing and livelihood of people) all Residents), which encourages green buildings to attract animal life. “This approach is strongly behind biophilia – basically it’s the love of diversity.”
Biophilic design not only has a positive effect on our environment, especially in urban areas, but also on the way we think. It is one of the few design theories that is backed by extensive research and evidence. In hospitals, for example, it is estimated that looking at trees and greenery, patients can recover eight and a half times faster than, for example, gray walls. And 22 percent better when relaxing in natural light.
“It’s really about creating spaces that are naturally restful and rejuvenating and that help us feel more positive and relaxed – we mimic that state of calm that we experience in nature,” says Oliver Heath. Founder of his eponymous design studio in Brighton and an expert in biophilic design. There is also the social psychological approach which suggests that by connecting people with nature and natural elements, one can move them into a more optimistic state of mind. The idea is that in this state you are more likely to connect to the places and people in those spaces, “ultimately strengthen communities and facilitate better conversations,” says Heath.
Integrating nature into interior design is becoming increasingly important for studios, even those like London-based Albion Nord, who are responsible for the interior design of the city’s new luxury residences at 80 Holland Park. “Almost every residential assignment now involves providing an indoor-outdoor experience,” says Creative Director Camilla Clarke, explaining that the studio builds spaces around the place where natural light falls, creating lines of sight and focal points to highlight the outside views. This is layered with textiles and materials such as rope-like sisal and abacá (banana plant) as well as natural linen, wool and bouclé that give texture. “Then we bring in lots of indoor plants like violin leaf figs and fill large vases with dried eucalyptus,” adds Clarke, who says it’s all about engaging the senses.
The fact that green spaces in prime urban real estate are increasingly consuming square meters shows that value is being attached to the biophilic lifestyle. “Our properties have certainly always sold very well and I’m sure there is a direct connection,” says Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi from Banda Property, referring to his latest project, a London penthouse, which is located on a private garden square with a view of the green lies. “We tried to create a sanctuary in a city,” he says of the residence. To enhance the natural feel throughout the apartment, Banda used shades of green combined with details like clay plaster, a 100 percent natural material that also helps regulate moisture. “Your shoulders sink when you walk into this room,” he says.
Of course, we want the same experience outside of our home, for example where we shop and eat, and that influences commercial design. Mexico City-based designer Micaela De Bernardi sees plants as an integral part of her designer narrative – and not just because of their visual impact. “They pick up CO2, which affects the air we breathe and the humidity of our surroundings,” says De Bernardi, one of the creative minds behind the interior design of the plant-filled Damian restaurant in LA and Pujol, Enrique Olveras Mexico City parish. to, where inside guests are greeted by a towering olive tree that extends into a translucent domed skylight. “They also emit particles in less visible ways that help reduce physical and psychological stress.”
Heath points out that big tech like Apple, Google, and Amazon have an emphasis on biophilic design – companies that it is reasonable to assume that they would only invest in design if there was a return on investment. “These principles have been shown to improve the concentration, engagement and cognitive skills of employees, but also the acquisition and retention of employees in the ‘war for talent’,” he says, pointing to figures that show that productivity has increased by eight percent and well-being can be increased by 13 percent.
Natural materials, windows and plants are simple and natural additions to our everyday surroundings, but interest in non-natural products is also growing – especially when nature is not welcome indoors. “It’s fascinating how many manufacturers and technology providers are starting to mimick nature to create more relaxing, stimulating and energizing spaces,” says Heath. An important assignment for his own studio was the design of a recreation room for autistic children at a school in Hackney. Since the children cannot always come into contact with sensitive plants, the design team was dependent on indirect references to nature. One of the solutions was to bring in nature-inspired wallpaper and create lap-like corners and niches lined with sustainable interface carpet tiles that soften the acoustics so they can feel safe. “We tried to create a multi-sensory environment,” explains Heath.
“When we talk about sustainability, it shouldn’t just be about the impact on the environment, but also about people’s well-being,” he continues. “How can we use design as a means to restore the environment, people and the planet?” That is the question we should all be asking ourselves.
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