Incorporating Nature to Improve Well-Being - Biophilic Design

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What is Biophilic Design

It is no new discovery that humans tend to seek nature, associating it with being good for both the mind and body. From retreats in the wild to holidays by the sea, many of us look to nature as a place for healing, relaxation and even personal growth. Furthermore, over 100 studies have concluded that nature has a significant impact on our well-being and a positive impact on our social, psychological and emotional life.


Sadly however, with increased urbanisation in our modern lives, stress levels have risen dramatically over the last 30 years with a significant reduction in our exposure to nature. It is therefore no surprise that people have started to take a corrective course of action in an attempt to bring nature back into their daily lives.


Through this short article, we hope to shed some light on the principals of Biophilic Design and how to re-establish a better relationship with nature through your next project and everyday life.


What is Biophilic Design?


Biophilic Design is based on the concept of ‘Biophilia’ defined by American Biologist Edward O. Wilson as the ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.’ The essence of Biophilic Design is to reconnect us with the natural world by identifying practical and effective ways we can incorporate nature in our built environment.


Studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature or even viewing nature in paintings, positively impacts our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes and social interactions. It helps us to calm our nervous system and cultivate greater openness, creativity, generosity, and resilience.


’14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’ by Terrapin Bright Green lays out a series of applicable tools rooted in the relationship between nature, human biology, and the built environment, as a way to effectively enhance health and well-being.


14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

1. Visual Connection with Nature


This pattern is based on the idea of viewing elements of nature, living systems and natural processes. A visual connection is believed to reduce stress, create positive emotional functioning and improve concentration and recovery rates.


Natural flowing water, animals, visible terrain, soil, or earth on the premises can help to achieve this visual connection; however, if these are not naturally occurring in your area, they can be recreated. This can be done with a stimulated natural environment such as an aquarium, green wall or even an artwork depicting the above.


2. Non-Visual Connection with Nature


Connecting with nature through sound, smell, touch or taste to improve health and to reduce cognitive fatigue, increase motivation and trigger memories that calm or energise.


This pattern can occur naturally in the form of fragrant flowers, weather, textured materials such as wood, stone, fur and sounds of animals such as songbirds. It can also be recreated using essential oil diffusers, digital recordings of nature sounds, highly textured fabrics and even by simply allowing pets in the home.


3. Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli


Studied in relation to eye patterns, heart rate, blood pressure and flight or fight responses, these connections are unpredictable short busts that are experienced in the natural environment. These brief distractions are said to be beneficial.


This pattern can be found naturally in the form of weather changes and the movement of plants and animals but it can also occur in the home through responsive, billowy fabrics and the movement of light creating shadow play.


4. Thermal & Airflow Variability


This pattern describes the subtle changes in temperatures and airflow that occur in natural environments preventing boredom and passivity.


This pattern is likely to already occur in the form of solar heat when the sun passes through a window, or when you are in shadows and shade. It can also be enhanced through window treatments or glazing and by creating more ventilation.


5. Presence of Water


Water has been found to encourage improved self-esteem and mood as well as to reduce stress.


If you don’t have a river, stream, ocean, pond or frequent rainfall where you are, the presence of water can be recreated by adding an aquarium, fountain or imagery featuring water.


6. Dynamic & Diffuse Light


The importance of lighting is well-known and evident in how we ourselves alter light levels to suit our needs. Whether that is to stay focused and alert or to unwind and prepare for sleep.


Dynamic and diffused light is often experienced from natural daylight light through windows, firelight, moonlight and seasonal light. However, you can recreate this pattern by using multiple low glare eclectic light sources, diffused light on walls or ceilings, using lights that have a dimming feature and taking advantage of accent lighting.


7. Connection with Natural Systems


Seasonal and temporal changes are a sign of a healthy environments. Awareness of naturally occurring life cycles lead to a more relaxing, nostalgic, and enlightened lifestyle.


Whilst these cycles are naturally occurring, an awareness can be enhanced by introducing plants into spaces or including things like nesting boxes in outdoor space.


8. Biomorphic Forms & Patterns


This pattern describes when shapes and patterns that occur in nature are used in design.


Biomorphic forms and patterns can easily be incorporated through fabrics, carpets and wallpapers based on the Fibonacci Series or Golden Mean, introducing sculptures that mimic natural elements, incorporating leaf patterns in your furniture details or using natural elements like woodwork throughout your spaces.


9. Material Connection with Nature


Woodgrains, bamboo, rattan and stone are all good materials to use as accents with a natural colour palette. These materials can help make spaces feel rich, warm and directly impact mood and productivity. The requirements of a space should be considered before choosing materials:


Wood – calming, warm, cosy effect

Stone - refreshing, cold, spacious


Wood is often used in colder countries because wooden interiors are seemingly warmer and make spaces feel cosier. They improve well-being by calming and relaxing. Stone on the other hand, is used in warm countries as cold surfaces provide freshness and welcomed coolness, creating calm in the heat. Using stone in working spaces is not very common from a practical point of view (for example due to acoustics) but, it is very much appreciated in residential houses in hot climates or in public lobby areas.


10. Complexity & Order


This element relates to trying to recreate the spatial hierarchy in nature through the use of symmetry, fractal patterns and irregular geometric shapes.


These patterns can be found in spatial arrangements, building proportions, structural ratios and window details, through to wallpaper, carpet and flooring patterns. Embracing classical or ancient art forms that follow these principles can also help to incorporate fractal patterns.


11. Prospect


We have an intrinsic desire to see beyond our immediate surroundings or over long distances. Prospect patterns consider a big-picture view of your environment and can be represented through the addition of balconies, oversized windows or skylights, mezzanine levels, open plan spaces or transparent partitions that provide uninterrupted views.


12. Refuge


Creating a setting that provides a sense of retreat or withdrawal and that feels safe can help to form a restorative and stress-free environment that lowers blood pressure and heart rate.


Tree-houses, reading libraries, enclosed, high backed chairs, canopy beds, can all be incorporated to create a safe haven reserved for relaxation.


13. Mystery


Mystery patterns describe spaces or features that engage a sense of excitement and curiosity. Curved edges, winding paths and obscured views form a journey of enclosure and revelation, helping to create a sense of mystery and anticipation. Alternatively, partially covered windows or translucent materials can also be manipulated to achieve the same effect.


14. Risk/ Peri


Shown to produce dopamine and pleasure responses, having an awareness of controllable risk without causing any real harm can be achieved by testing the limits of height, gravity and water causing any actual risk.


Commercial Biophilic Design

From commercial workspaces to hotels, holiday cabins and our homes, the research behind biophilic design and its positive impact on our daily lives is unquestionable. The 14 patterns of Biophilic Design provide insight into how each element can affect us and the practical application of each. Often projects inherently incorporate a few of the principles through good design however, it is the combination and integration of all the 14 patterns that achieves true Biophilic design and a building / space that subtly creates a genuine connection with nature.


Ashman Architects are excited to currently be working on a Biophilic Design inspired, mixed-use quarter in the heart of London that we are very much looking forward to revealing later in the year. Please make sure to stay tuned if you are looking for Biophilic Design inspiration for your next project!