Biophilia refers to our innate human connection to nature. This connection has always been essential for human survival. Today, as we become more urbanized, we have become increasingly disconnected from nature, leading to a range of health and social problems. However, there is growing recognition of the benefits of biophilia in architecture and urban design. In this article, I will explore biophilia’s relevance to sustainable architecture and urban design, and share some examples.
Biophilic design incorporates natural elements into the built environment, such as natural light, plants, and water features. It creates a connection between people and nature by bringing natural elements into buildings and public spaces. The benefits of biophilic design are numerous, including improved health and well-being, increased productivity, reduced stress, and enhanced creativity.
Research has shown that biophilic design can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase productivity. One study found that employees in an office with a green wall were more productive and had lower stress levels than those in a traditional office setting. Another study found that patients in a hospital room with a view of nature had lower levels of pain and anxiety than those in rooms with no view.
In addition to the health benefits, biophilic design can also contribute to sustainability. Buildings with natural light, ventilation, and water features reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality. Urban design that incorporates green spaces can reduce the urban heat island effect, mitigate stormwater runoff, and improve the overall livability of urban areas.
Kanha Shanti Vanam, a Platinum-rated Green Campus located near the city of Hyderabad, India, is a unique example of biophilic design in practice. This 1,400-acre Heartfulness meditation center is designed to provide a connection to nature and promote well-being through its biophilic design features.
Kanha is in a natural setting, filed with rainforests, lakes, and open spaces. The architects sought to create a sense of harmony between the built environment and its natural surroundings. Kanha features numerous biophilic design elements, including a meditation hall that is designed to resemble a cave, with a natural rock formation as the backdrop.
One of the most striking features of Kanha is its extensive use of greenery. There are more than 700,000 plants and trees, which have been strategically placed throughout the campus to create a sense of calm and tranquility. The greenery also helps to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve air quality.
In addition to the extensive use of greenery, Kanha also features a variety of water features, including four large lakes and numerous smaller water features. Water helps to create a sense of calm and relaxation, and also serves as important habitats for local wildlife.
Kanha also features numerous outdoor spaces for relaxation and recreation, including walking paths, gardens, and open spaces. These outdoor spaces provide opportunities for visitors to connect with nature and enjoy the benefits of being outside.
Another example of biophilic design is the Singapore Changi Airport, which features an indoor garden with a four-story waterfall, a butterfly garden, and a sunflower garden. The airport’s green spaces not only provide a connection to nature for travelers but also improve air quality and create a sense of calm and relaxation in what can be a stressful environment.
As more architects and urban planners embrace biophilic design, we can expect to see more buildings and public spaces that enhance our connection to nature and promote a healthier, more sustainable future.
Here are some of the essential features of biophilic design:
Natural light is essential for health and well-being. Exposure to natural light can improve mood, increase productivity, and promote healthy sleep patterns. Many of us spend our days working in artificial environments, surrounded by fluorescent lighting and computer screens. One of the primary benefits of natural light is its impact on our circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to natural light during the day helps keep our circadian rhythms in sync, leading to improved sleep patterns and overall health. In contrast, exposure to artificial light, especially at night, can disrupt our circadian rhythms, leading to sleep disturbances and other health problems. Outdoor spaces such as courtyards, gardens, and balconies can provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Views to the outdoors provide a connection to nature and promote relaxation and well-being. Views of natural landscapes and outdoor spaces have been linked to reduced stress levels, improved mood, and increased productivity. They also improve air quality and create a sense of calm and tranquility. Architects and designers can use a variety of design strategies, such as skylights, windows, and open floor plans, to maximize natural light and views of the outdoors. They can also use materials and finishes that reflect and amplify natural light, creating a bright and airy atmosphere.
Plants and greenery not only improve air quality but also create a calming atmosphere that reduces stress levels. Incorporating native and indigenous plants can have even greater benefits than simply adding any old plant to a space.
One of the key benefits of using native and indigenous plants in biophilic design is that they require less maintenance and resources than non-native species. Because they are already adapted to the local environment, they require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than plants from other regions. This not only reduces the environmental impact of the design, but also makes it more cost-effective in the long run.
Another benefit is that they provide habitat and food for local wildlife. By incorporating these plants into biophilic design, we can create a more balanced ecosystem that supports a diverse range of species. This is particularly important in urban areas, where development has often led to the loss of natural habitats.
In addition to these ecological benefits, incorporating native and indigenous plants can have cultural and educational value. By showcasing local plant species, we can celebrate the unique biodiversity of a region and create a deeper connection to the local culture and history. This provides educational opportunities for visitors and residents to learn more about the local environment and the importance of preserving it.
Moreover, using native and indigenous plants in biophilic design can help create a sense of place and identity. By incorporating plants that are specific to a region, designers create a unique and authentic atmosphere that reflects the local culture and traditions. This, in turn, contributes to a sense of community and belonging and fosters a deeper connection to the environment.
Fountains, ponds, and streams provide a sense of tranquility and relaxation, while also creating a habitat for local wildlife. They improve air quality by increasing humidity levels and can even help reduce noise pollution.
The use of wood, stone, and water creates a sense of connection to nature and promotes a calming and restorative atmosphere. These materials also have a positive impact on air quality and can reduce stress levels, leading to improved productivity and overall well-being.
Biophilic design emphasizes the importance of sensory experiences, such as the sound and smell of nature. Incorporating birdsong, the sound of flowing water, and the scent of plants can create a sense of calm and relaxation, while also providing a connection to nature.