How can biophilic design be integrated into architecture?
21 juli 2020

From energy focus to human comfort

The concept of sustainable design within the built environment has been rapidly changing in the last years. We have been observing a shift in the paradigms that characterise sustainability, moving from a narrow focus on energy performance to a broader approach to human beings centered and restorative design. I am thinking about the spreading of comfort and wellbeing schemes such as the WELL standard within the building industry, the introduction of social engagement strategies such as urban rooftops, farms, and shared community facilities. Last but not least, the introduction of new credits in the well-renowned sustainability frameworks such as BREEAM and LEED certifications for biophilic design, enhanced visual comfort, and indoor acoustics, which proves a change of direction.

When talking about biophilia, many of us associate it with having indoor plants and as many green walls as possible in interior spaces, however, the concept goes well beyond locating some potted plants!

As designers, we make important choices on the built environments, which most people spend over 90% of their lives. Taking into account that 35% of mental health problems come from the work environment according to The World Health Organization, it is a priority for us to be aware of how we can create and design healthy and inspiring spaces.

Biophilic design is the integration of natural elements within the architectural design of spaces (indoor or outdoor) and it has great potential to significantly improve the comfort and wellbeing of human beings in indoor spaces.

A framework for the integration of nature into spaces

As a positive change to the use of plants and nature-inspired elements, a considerable amount of research has brought to new insights on this topic. Several studies have shown that biophilia can change human attitudes and behaviors but also it can positively impact heart rate, blood pressure, level of stress, and concentration.

But what does Biophilia exactly involve and how can we implement it into our design?

The classification from the Bright Green Terrapin comes into help by defining biophilic 14 design patterns strategies, which aim at making biophilia a tangible experience within the context of the architectural design of buildings.

These patterns can be organised into three main categories, which are linked to a different set of strategies each:

  1. Nature in the Space
  2. Nature Analogues
  3. Nature of the Space

Nature in the Space focuses on direct connection with nature through the physical presence of nature in the space. This involves plant life, water features, animals but also sounds and odors. Some examples of Nature in the Space strategies include flowerbeds, water features, butterfly gardens, aquarium, green walls, and a vegetated roof. This combination of strategies aims to link occupants of the buildings with natural elements through multi-sensorial experiences, diversity, and movement within the spaces. For instance, exposure to natural sounds, when compared to traffic or office noise, improves physiological and psychological restoration up to 37% faster after a psychological stressor and reduces cognitive fatigue and helps motivation.

Afbeelding: Tabel1 How can biophilic design be integrated into architecture

Nature Analogues involves the introduction of indirect natural elements by means of mimicry and evocations of nature. This category of biophilic design strategies covers the mimicry of animals' shells and habitat and plants through the use of patterns, materials, colors, shapes objects, sequences. This biophilic design can be therefore manifested commonly through furniture, ornamentation, textiles, and artwork. Besides, it could also be applicable to structural design elements such as beams and columns with organic shapes or facades cladding and roof components. On another note, however, studies on the link between the use of analogs patterns and health benefits in human beings are not yet sound, but rather in their infancy.

Afbeelding: Tabel2 How can biophilic design be integrated into architecture

Nature of the Space involves the creation of deliberate and engaging special configuration and layout that can be found in nature. This approach can involve the use of biomimicry to recreate patterns found in nature, the design of particularly interesting views, the induction of spaces which have a surprise and fear element that can be solved by an element of safety.

It is good practice to implement patterns that can be partnered together. For example, Refuge and Prospect Biophilic Pattern designs are more effective when co-exist.

Afbeelding: Tabel3 How can biophilic design be integrated into architecture

From micro to macro-scale with a critical eye

The biophilic approach can be a framework for sustainability strategies on different scales and projects. As a matter of fact, measures can be scaled to the surrounding environment and to the predicted user population for the spaces. Patterns can be applied at the scale of a micro-space such as a room, or a building, a neighborhood or campus, and even an entire district. Each of these spaces will obviously present different design challenges that require tailored solutions.

Some of the international sustainability schemes like LEED and WELL standards do consider Biophilia as a strategic measure to award more points and achieve higher certification levels. For instance in LEED Biophilia is a pilot credit (innovation) but is also taken into account within Sustainable site strategies, so it cannot be dismissed. Likewise in WELL, integration of vegetation plays a crucial role within the Mind and Nourishment concepts, and it is further used to frame urban farms and eatable garden opportunities. Recently also BREEAM NL has introduced 1 point for Biophilic design when 3 to 5 biophilic patterns are implemented.

Compelling evidence has been produced so far on the large benefits derived by biophilia, however, I believe that more research and testing are required to define the critical parameters that affect these mechanisms when referred to nature analogues strategies that use mimicry through pattern, shapes and organic motifs.

By looking at this approach with a critical eye and being aware of its real impact, I am convinced that we should make this standard practice rather than an ‘extra’, as it has the characteristics to be a social changer (also by being very economical) and a tool for inspiring motivational and yet healthy spaces.

At ABT we are well focused on sustainability and wellbeing and we have large experience on how to implement biophilic patterns within new and existing buildings with innovative engineering solutions.

Stay tuned for the next blog

In the coming weeks we will address the link between Biophilia and Climate control, so stay tuned!

Render: © Vero Visual

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