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The Natural Benefits of Biophilic Design

Friday, April 27, 2018
Written by: Melinda Scalfaro, AIA-LEED AP BD+C, NCARB - Partner (Sustainability Leader)

What if there was a way to ensure every person who visits your building has a positive physiological reaction to your space? Research shows that by incorporating Biophilic Design strategies you can do just that. Biophilia is the idea that humans have an innate tendency to focus on nature, lifelike processes and other forms of life. It’s no secret that being outside and interacting with nature can improve your mood. Yet in today’s age we spend 90% of our time indoors. Biophilic Design attempts to incorporate connections with nature throughout the built environment to enhance occupant well-being.

The majority of research on this topic started in the healthcare industry where multiple studies have confirmed that patients with access to nature had better outcomes than those who did not. Other market sectors are catching on and realizing that these same concepts can enhance the comfort and performance of the people within their facilities. Offices with natural light, materials, and vegetation have been found to increase productivity, improve morale, and reduce absenteeism. In retail, companies like Walmart have shown that shoppers buy more in stores or sections of stores that are lit by daylight and they have installed millions of dollars of skylights in their stores.

Another example of the effects of Biophilic Design that is near and dear to our hearts is in the K-12 educational environment. Schools often get deemed as looking and feeling ‘institutional’. Long corridors and cold materials deprive the senses and are a far departure from the residential spaces in which the students feel comfortable. This can have a negative effect on students including increased anxiety and misbehavior. Anxiety and misbehavior then take the focus away from what the student and teacher are there to do in the first place.  By incorporating natural materials and connections to nature, students have been evidenced to have lower heart rates and have reported lower stress levels.  

When designing the new Lake Elementary School, we set a goal from the very beginning of the project to design spaces that felt more like home and that incorporated natural materials and connections with nature. Every corridor features glass and views to the exterior. Learning spaces all provide views to the outdoors. Metal lockers are wrapped with woodwork, wood beams were used in lieu of steel in the cafeteria, wood slats help to define flexible learning spaces, interior paint and flooring materials are centered on a color palette that can be found in nature, and outdoor learning areas surround the building.

While Biophilic Design may be a new term, some of the strategies it employs are not. The use of local materials, integration with the natural environment, as well as themes and patterns of nature have all been seen throughout human history. It is only now that we have connected the dots to realize how important it is that we be diligent and purposeful in our use of these strategies to create the desired outcomes so that every person within our buildings can reap the benefits.

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