Architecture has always been closely integrated with the human experience. Human emotions and physical needs have often, if not most, been the motive behind designing habitable spaces. Now contemporary interior design is looking to nature and natural elements to establish a deeper connection between humans and spaces giving inhabitants what is called Biophilic Design.

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MIA Design Studio. Biophilic Design

Biophilia is a term referring simply to the human experience of having an affinity to nature and its elements. In Greek, it roughly translates to ‘the love of living things. Through biophilic design when we bring elements of running or still water, plants, and good air circulation to the interiors, we already have established a connection with the natural world. Unfortunately, most of us stop there. 

Yet, a dialogue with the natural world involves the choice of materials and finishes, exposure to natural ecological systems, and indirect or direct stimuli to natural processes. 

Here are six things you probably didn’t know about biophilic design.

1. The Tragedy of Indoor Plants and Biophilic Design

A well kept freshly watered money plant on your study desk certainly invokes nature. So do two indoor palm plants in the living room. Perhaps a few succulents on the coffee table or the bedside table will also encourage one’s interaction with nature. Yet, these are not elements of Biophilic design. 

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Richard Chivers. Biophilic Study

Such sporadic instances of nature do nothing to connect one to the outdoors and biophilia isn’t about a few plants. Look towards overlapping the spaces with paintings or photographs of the outdoors. Placing the desk near a window where one can look out is another way to engage with daylight, the passing breeze, and the sounds of nature.

2. Psychological Health and Biophilic Design

Strong and routine interactions with nature provide mental restoration and rest from mental fatigue. Stress accumulated over time from constant office work, work with constant mental input, and work requiring repetitive tasks result in extreme fatigue to our sensory and cognitive resources. Being close to natural elements introduced through biophilic design results in an outlet that helps rejuvenate the senses. 

Psychological responses to emotions, adaptability, alertness, and mood can be linked directly to our affinity towards nature. Having our senses make direct or indirect contact with nature helps lower anxiety and fatigue levels. Urban environments with higher levels of biophilic interaction induce lower levels of stress and anger in the inhabitants. 

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Prasanth Mohan. Benziger Home

Following established empirical data on the fruitful consequences of Biophilic design in our contemporary built environment, many hospitals and health care units have developed their architecture around the same. In the beautiful state of Kerala, architect Srijit Srinivas was commissioned by The Malabar Province of the Order of Discalced Carmelite (OCD) to build an infrastructure for cancer patients. The resulting Benziger Hospice Home is an urban environment that uses elements of Biophilic design to provide a quality space for the inhabitants. 

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Prasanth Mohan. Benziger Home

3. Physiological Health and Biophilic Design

Many human concerns surrounding our muscular health, stress-related blood pressures, and heart rate can also be directly linked to nature. Overall physiological health issues such as anxiety-related high blood pressures are common to urban dwellers in concrete jungles. 

Towns and cities with little green breathing spaces and highly toxic gases and dust particles affect the aural and cardiovascular systems bringing long-term damage. Frequent and routine contact with nature through careful design triggers relaxation of tensed muscles, lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels in the blood. 

4. Children, Education and Biophilic Design

Built in 2013 by Tectoniques Architects in France, The Paul Chevallier school complex is a 5034 square meters educational facility. The school consists of an elementary and a nursery school and a multipurpose hall. Integrating itself into the landscape, the school uses biophilic design through its spatial layout, open plan, and construction materials to implement and establish a peaceful center of learning. 

The relationship that the architecture establishes with nature is essential to the learning environment, sometimes even letting nature have ‘the upper hand’. Wood, an element used throughout is a pre-eminent presence. 

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Renaud Araud. Paul Chevallier School
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Renaud Araud. Paul Chevallier School

The children have a beautiful view of the nearby park, while also having an indoor vegetable garden to explore. Studies indicated that the children show healthy childhood maturation, wonderful development of socio-emotional skills, and improved self-esteem and confidence. Improved cognitive functioning in tasks that require memory and concentration have also been linked to the biophilic design used in the school. 

5. Biophilic Design and Big Budget

Oftentimes people refrain from embracing the elements of biophilic design due to budget and time constraints. While Pinterest offers jaw-dropping photographs of green spacey interiors laden with exotic plants and aromatic candles, what one essentially needs is the understanding that nature-driven design is simple; just let nature and its elements in. 

Tom Dixon planned a simple design strategy for McCann Erickson’s office in New York that resulted in improved creativity, mood and lowered work-related stress. Dixon portioned the desks to take advantage of the big windows and let every desk receive a visual view of the outdoors and the warmth of daylight. Every five minutes the eyes dart up from the computer screen to green trees and blue skies, helping the eyes and muscles to relax. 

Furthermore, using materials like wood, copper, and glass to reference nature brought in elements of nature to calm the space down. Additionally, a plant curtain wall helps to keep the space green and breathes freshness in the space.

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Tom Dixon. McCann Erickson’s Office

6. The Biophilic Trend Is Catching On

Around the world, the biophilic design trend is catching on. Architects and interior designers are selling concepts and themes that fall around the concept of green spaces and everything to do with nature. While it is encouraging that people are waking up to the coexistence of nature and architecture, one can only wonder if it is only the facade of this truth that is green or if there are efforts that validate this truth. 

LIJO RENY Architects have built a stunning residential house in Kerala that doesn’t fancy expensive materials or imported wood. What it does do instead is bring the inhabitants back in touch with nature. 

The house dabbles in small trees, a garden with flowers, and birds and butterflies all the while being home to a growing family. An open inviting layout cradles a dining room next to some palm leaves, grey cemented flooring laid alongside pebbles, and a skylight with cavities to let some rainwater through. Strategic windows allow the movement of breeze throughout the year. 

LIJO RENY architects are not the only ones building biophilic spaces in India and with the speed with which the trend is catching on, one can only hope this healthy trend is here to stay.

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Praveen Mohandas. Biophilic Residence by LIJO RENY
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Praveen Mohandas. Biophilic Residence by LIJO RENY.
Adriel Khan
Author

Adriel is a spatial designer who believes writing about design is just as important as the design itself. He believes that architecture and design are instruments of human expression which ought to be unfolded to enable a deeper connection with our surroundings.

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