Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life

When you hear biophilia, what do you think of?

It has become a bit of a catch phrase in the design industry and is dangerously close to morphing into a cliché, just like ‘culture’ used to describe beanbags, coffee machines and sleeping pods (Disclaimer: the aforementioned three have their uses😄).

One of the seminars at NeoCon this year redefined the popular definition of biophilia being buying a couple of pot plants. Lewis Epstein, general manager of Coalesse, Bill Browning, co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green and John Hamilton, global design director for Coalesse, Turnstone and Steelcase discussed the differences between implicit and explicit design, and how to implement them as a designer to make spaces more conducive to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

Biophilic design comprises the 5 senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. The ultimate goal is to use these in conjunction with each other to create a space which reenergises its occupants and allows for maximum return on investment. Healthy design= healthy people.

Explicit vs. Implicit

Explicit design is the simple one; things like plants, fire (fire pit, anyone? Its been a cold winter), water, outlook, and air.

As a designer, you have to be careful to use these elements in a way that doesn’t distress the occupants. For example, if you can hear water but don’t know where it is coming from, your body will be on the alert trying to find it. One way to avoid this is to put the water feature in the lobby or entrance so that everyone identifies the sound of nature positively in their subconscious, allowing them to get the benefit of the noise without the stress or fear.

Air movement, such as changes in temperature or air vents placed near plants to simulate the movement of the wind outdoors also contributes to achieving a biophilic workplace. Altering the positions of air vents is a simple change that can make a big difference in the happiness, and therefore productivity, of those occupying the space.
Something very interesting is that our bodies respond the same to artificial and real plants. Plants deliver a message that this space is healthy. The air quality and general environment must be healthy, as the plant is thriving.

Outlook simply means to have some sort of view to the outside world, which isn’t always possible. It can be simulated with a painting or landscape of some kind. Bill talked about a case study that took place in a hospital to measure the success of having an outlook by Texas A&M University. Sample groups of patients were selected who were the same age, having the same operation and were placed in rooms identical even down to the paint colour. The only difference being that half had a view to some trees, not a stunning garden, just a few trees and shrubs, and the other half could see a brick wall. On average those with the view to the greenery recovered in 7.4 days with half the painkillers and nursing calls, compared to those who could see the brick wall recovering in 8.3 days.

On average those with the view to the greenery recovered in 7.4 days with half the painkillers and nursing calls, compared to those who could see the brick wall recovering in 8.3 days.
The benefit to humankind and the cost savings which result from such small improvements is astronomical.

Implicit design is less tangible. It involves using patterns and shapes to emulate those which occur in nature, such as fractals and the Fibonacci sequence.
Spider webs, leaf membrane, fish scales, zebra stripes and tree rings are all examples of non-repeating, naturally occurring patterns. Organic patterns instantly appeal to our brains as we recognise it as a part of nature. People are fascinated by irregularity as it more real, less concrete jungle.

For example, instead of installing a monoculture green wall, mix it up. Monocultures rarely occur in the wild, and the variation creates interest and a closer connection to the space from those occupying it. Those colour changes in the moss are because it was placed there by hand. The use of different plants sends an unconscious message to the brain that a biodiverse habitat is thriving here, so it must be a good place for me too.

“Living nature is not static, plants change and fish move in patterns I can’t predict.”

Moving installations are always going to create interest. As John said, ‘living nature is not static, plants change and fish move in patterns I can’t predict’. However if your installation moves in the same pattern every day, after you’ve seen it once your brain will just ignore it and count it as a part of the furniture. But if it moves in an organic, unpredictable way, the benefit will continue.
To find out how your team productivity can soar incorporating biophilics, contact us @ Icon Interiors.

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