Biophilic interior design, or designing with nature, can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanise, these qualities are ever more important. Given how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response, and the fact that U.S. businesses squander billions of dollars each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illnesses, design that reconnects us with nature – biophilic interior design – is essential for providing people opportunities to live and work in healthy places and spaces with less stress and greater overall health and well-being.
Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. Biophilia may also help explain why some urban parks and buildings are preferred over others. For decades, research scientists and design practitioners have been working to define aspects of nature that most impact our satisfaction with the built environment.
This blog post introduces the main three principles to bring nature indoors in a ways which enhance our lives through a connection with nature. Keep reading to understand how to best implement nature design in your space with biophilic design principles.
Biophilic Design Principles
Biophilic interior design can be organised into three principles, also known as nature and design relationships, these are:
- Nature in the Space,
- Natural Analogues, and
- Nature of the Space
These relationships or principles of biophilic design provide a framework for understanding and enabling thoughtful incorporation of a rich diversity of strategies into the built environment. Let's have a further look.
Nature in the Space
Nature in the Space addresses the direct, physical and ephemeral presence of nature in a space or place. This includes plant life, water and animals, as well as breezes, sounds, scents and other natural elements. Common examples include potted plants, flowerbeds, bird feeders, butterfly gardens, water features, fountains, aquariums, courtyard gardens and green walls or vegetated roofs. The strongest Nature in the Space experiences are achieved through the creation of meaningful, direct connections with these natural elements, particularly through diversity, movement and multi-sensory interactions.
Nature in the Space encompasses seven biophilic design patterns:
- Visual Connection with Nature. A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.
- Non-Visual Connection with Nature. Auditory, haptic (touch and proprioception), olfactory (smell), or gustatory (taste) stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
- Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. Stochastic and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
- Thermal & Airflow Variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.
- Presence of Water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.
- Dynamic & Diffuse Light. Leverages varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.
- Connection with Natural Systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.
Benefits of Nature in the Space
First, the direct experience of nature (nature in the space) that refers to real contact with nature in the built environment, such as the presence of natural light, which positively impacts circadian system functioning (Figueiro et al. 2011; Beckett and Roden 2009); thermal and airflow variability that can positively impact comfort and well-being (Heerwagen 2006; Tham and Willem 2005), and increase concentration (Hartig et al. 2003); presence of water, which can reduce stress, increase feelings of tranquillity, lower heart rate and blood pressure (Alvarsson and Wiens 2010; Pheasant et al. 2010; Biederman and Vessel 2006); or the visual connection with nature for instance through abundance of plants and vegetation indoors or view of natural landscapes that can lower blood pressure and heart rate (Brown et al. 2013; van den Berg et al. 2007; Tsunetsugu and Miyazaki 2005).
Natural Analogues addresses organic, non-living and indirect evocations of nature. Objects, materials, colours, shapes, sequences and patterns found in nature, manifest as artwork, ornamentation, furniture, décor, and textiles in the built environment. Mimicry of shells and leaves, furniture with organic shapes, and natural materials that have been processed or extensively altered (e.g., wood planks, granite tabletops), each provide an indirect connection with nature: while they are real, they are only analogous to the items in their ‘natural’ state. The strongest Natural Analogue experiences are achieved by providing information richness in an organised and sometimes evolving manner.
Natural Analogues encompasses three patterns of biophilic design:
- Biomorphic Forms & Patterns. Symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.
- Material Connection with Nature. Materials and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology and create a distinct sense of place.
- Complexity & Order. Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.
Benefits of Nature Analogues
It is possible to conceive interventions aimed at facilitating an indirect experience of nature, referring to the contact with the representation or the image of nature or the exposure of individuals to particular patterns and processes that are typical of the natural world (natural analogues). This type of experience refers to the use of natural materials, the choice of colours that are typical of the natural world, the reproduction of natural forms, which can decrease diastolic blood pressure (Tsunetsugu et al. 2007, and improve creative performance (Lichtenfeld et al. 2012).
Nature of the Space
Nature of the Space addresses spatial configurations in nature. This includes our innate and learned desire to be able to see beyond our immediate surroundings, our fascination with the slightly dangerous or unknown; obscured views and revelatory moments; and sometimes even phobia-inducing properties when they include a trusted element of safety. The strongest Nature of the Space experiences are achieved through the creation of deliberate and engaging spatial configurations commingled with patterns of Nature in the Space and Natural Analogues.
Nature of the Space encompasses four biophilic design patterns:
- Prospect. An unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning.
- Refuge. A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.
- Mystery. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment.
- Risk/Peril. An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable safeguard.
Benefits of Nature of the Space
Nature of the space can affect the experience of visitors through spaces and places. In fact, biophilic design can influence the relationship between the environment and its users, producing positive effects on human health and the feeling of well-being. This can be achieved, for instance, through the use of perspective in interior spaces, which amplifies the perception of the surrounding space, while at the same time conveying a sense of protection - therefore helping to reduce stress (Grahn and Stigsdotter 2010). Other means to ensure comfort include the proper design of the organised complexity, e.g. by means of effective orientation and wayfinding systems that ensure informative comfort.
Watch a summary of the biophilic design principles in this video.