What are the benefits of biophilic design?

The benefits of biophilic design are far beyond what meets the eye. Not only biophilic design can help us feel better indoors, but it can also improve our finances, and generate more involvement in environmental issues. Read on to find out biophilic design benefits, and to understand why biophilic design is essential for our home and city planning for the years to come.

Biophilic design involves the use of natural materials, natural light and plants to create a more pleasing and effective built environment. It works on the principle that humans have evolved to work in and with the natural environment for millions of years, and that we are not well-adapted to the urban industrial environment in existence for only the past 200 years or so.

Learn here:

1. Why is biophilic design important for our homes, buildings and cities? 
2. What is driving us to the increased use of biophilic design?
3. What are the benefits of biophilic design?
4. What are the benefits of Biophilic design for each type of space?
5. Examples of how Biophilia can be used in interior design and architecture.

1. Why is biophilic design important for our homes, buildings and cities?

Creating spaces that enhance wellbeing is an important design aim to achieve. Why? Because as urbanisation has increased, stress rates have also rocketed. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

Here’s some astonishing facts that demonstrate why:

With a vast body of research to support the ethos, it’s important that we find ways to creatively develop the implementation of the principles of Biophilic Design and make it financially accessible, to increase the uptake.

Additionally, the sustainability aspect of biophilic design is crucial for living buildings and environments. Providing green spaces, water features, abundant plants and natural materials creates a host of benefits, including helping to reduce a development’s carbon footprint and regulating the temperature of buildings.

2. What is driving us to the increased use of biophilic design?

In the conditions of the modern world, people spend almost 90 percent of their time in the indoors and possibly with this pandemic situation, it's even more.

Despite that a significant number of offices, hospitals, schools implement some sort of connection with nature in their spaces; most the citizens spend their daily life in spaces where they have no connection with the outside; not having appropriate airstrip regulation, not enough light exposure, and many others needed factors for our human wellbeing. This is even more critical for the citizens who live in the big cities.

For businesses

One major influence driving the movement towards biophilic design is the need to encourage staff to stay – if employees are content, retention rates tend to be higher.

People expect more from the built environments they use now, particularly those who work in them (given how large a proportion of their lives they spend at work).

Previously, developers and operators had viewed plants and other features we would now describe as biophilic as being too high-maintenance. This had made built environments feel sterile and joyless. This is changing, and everyone can now see the important role that biophilic design can play.

3. What are the benefits of biophilic design?

Despite so many people living in city-dominated lives, with increasingly limited access to natural elements, they all share an affinity with the natural world. No matter where they are, people yearn for more natural light, peace and quiet, and most importantly, the chance to be closer to nature. Let's have a look at the main benefits of biophilic design for our indoor spaces.

1. Aids our physical and mental wellbeing

The physical and mental wellbeing of people who spend substantial time within a buillt environment is thought to be positively affected by sensory contact with natural features, through reduced stress and increased productivity.

Biophilic design features play a therapeutic role – they can be calming, uplifting and stress/anxiety-reducing. As hundreds of millions of people now live in cities or large towns, biophilic design can play a role in helping to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of a large proportion of the population – whether workers, shoppers, residents or visitors.

The 2015 Human Spaces report, which studied 7,600 offices workers in 16 countries, found that 58% of workers have no live plants in their workspaces. Those whose environments incorporated natural elements reported a 15% higher wellbeing score and a 6% higher productivity score than employees whose offices didn’t include such elements. Other studies have shown that, in an average living space, five medium-sized plants can increase air quality by around 75% and mental health by 60%.

Water features can provide a calming effect to counter rising levels of stress, while natural light and ventilation can improve physical wellbeing and the ‘feel’ of a building. If the opportunity exists, views over the surrounding environment should be maximised through extensive glazing, which can also provide abundant natural light and ventilation.

People desire comfort and want to be able to get away from their desks and enjoy green space, natural elements and fresh air. Biophilic design allows people to do that without having to go far – whether it is to wander to a landscaped exterior space, to sit beside a fountain in the lobby or to just be able to appreciate the view for a couple of minutes.

2. Helps sharpen our senses

As humans, we navigate the world through our senses. The first things that we perceive when we enter any space, are through our senses...We look around, we observe, we touch our surroundings and sense the material differences, we hear some sounds,  smell the environment; and do all of them at the same time. Therefore, the presence of those all elements in a space, in a naturally stimulating way - using biophilic elements (elements from nature) - creates a positive atmosphere in the space that helps us use and develop more our senses.

3. Improves our mind restoration and productivity

Our minds are designed to scan the views to look for things we find safe and comforting—and which have low visual complexity. So, a room with an open window, a couple of plants, and some subtle wood grain is better than a chaotic, cluttered space without natural light. Simply put, our brains are at their best when they can quietly observe aspects of the natural world.

Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment have been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self reported rates of well-being. This provides another incentive for building owners and operators to ensure that the environments in which people work are conducive to that. A 10-year Exeter University study concluded that employees were 15% more productive when “lean” workplaces are filled with just a few houseplants.

Also, schools can increase focus and concentration in students and staff whilst reducing the impacts of cognitive fatigue, stress and ADHD. This can improve the schools performance and staff and student retention.

4. Increases retention rates

Biophilic design can help employees to be more present, creative and more engaged at their jobs, which in turn reduces absenteeism and turnover (and the accompanying financial consequences). Studies affirm that workers who are closed off from nature take more sick leave than workers in biophilic spaces. In fact, as much as 10% of employee absences can be attributed to non-biophilic offices. Biophilic design can reduce that number, mitigate turnover costs, enhance employee retention, and create a better working environment.

Additionally, businesses that boast offices with design elements inspired by nature, such as more natural light and greenery, will have employees that are happier and more productive at work, and perhaps healthier too. 

5. Adds to business bottom line

As mentioned, increased productivity and employee retention are two major commercial benefits which can result from the use of biophilic elements within a design. It also aids creativity because of the way in which it helps staff to relax and focus. Noise can often be a problem in open-plan offices, but strategically placed plants help to quieten down a space because their leaves, stems and branches absorb, deflect and refract sound - therefore creating a more optimal work space.

The reduction of energy requirements, particularly in terms of lighting, ventilation and temperature regulation, are also excellent financial incentives for adopting a biophilic design approach.

There is some evidence that biophilic design can also reduce sickness rates, which again boosts productivity and reduces losses from absences. A 2011 study by the University of Life Sciences, Norway, showed that just being able to see office plants from your desk can reduce sick leave. The study found that interior planting can reduce short term employee absenteeism by 10%.

6. Encourages advances in technology inspired in nature

The use of LED technology to simulate the natural experience, whether that be clouds in the sky or a waterfall, can help people to feel relaxed. Just seeing images of natural features, even in abstract form, can have a wonderful effect on mental wellbeing for a building’s users.

New technology has led to a big improvement in vertical green walls – better irrigation and soil has led to living walls achieving a level of longevity which wasn’t the case with some earlier ones.

We saw on the news recently how R&D is playing a prominent role in advancing the biophilic design agenda, with algae-filled exterior ‘bio-curtains’ being developed to draw pollution away from the street and convert it into oxygen – creating the possibility that buildings could perform a similar function to trees. Developments such as this show the exciting possibilities which technology can bring to the field of biophilic design.

7. Helps us create a stronger bond with nature, thus for caring to protect it.

Biophilic Design is an innovative way of designing the places where we live, work, and learn to help us reconnect to nature. We need nature in a deep and fundamental way, but we have often designed our cities and suburbs in ways that both degrade the environment and alienate us from nature. The recent trend in green architecture has decreased the environmental impact of the built environment (i.e. energy efficiency, water usage...), but it hasn't accomplished enough in the way of reconnecting us to the natural world - the missing piece in the puzzle of sustainable development.

4. What are the benefits of Biophilic design for each type of space?

Despite so many office workers living city-dominated lives, with increasingly limited access to natural elements, they all share an affinity with the natural world. No matter where they are, people yearn for more natural light, peace and quiet, and most importantly, the chance to be closer to nature. It follows, then, that businesses that boast offices with design elements inspired by nature, such as more natural light and greenery, will have employees that are happier and more productive at work, and perhaps healthier too.”38

– Sir Cary Cooper (CBE FAcSS), Psychologist

There have been numerous studies over the last 35 years on the benefits to the built environment through improving a connection to nature. 

Biophilic Design can have tangible benefits within the workplace, educational, hospitality, retail and domestic sectors – creating savings and improving profits. Using Biophilic Design can create a greater sense of health and well-being for inhabitants, staff and visitors alike. But it can also have hugely beneficial financial implications that stem from improving the health and well being of the building occupants. A research done by Interface, points out a few of the sectors where the economic benefits of biophilic design add up.

Office design

Offices can be more productive and create lower levels of stress, fostering greater happiness and creativity, whilst helping to retain staff and reduce absenteeism. Productivity can be increased by 8%, rates of well-being up by 13%, increases in creativity, with reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.

Hospitality design

Hotels and restaurants can decompress the stress of everyday life for their guests and staff, whilst commanding higher rates of return on rooms with nature connections. Guests are willing to pay 23% more for rooms with views of Biophilic elements.

Education spaces

Schools can increase focus and concentration in students and staff whilst reducing the impacts of cognitive fatigue, stress and ADHD. This can improve the schools performance and staff and student retention.

Increased rates of learning 20-25%, improved test results, concentration levels and attendance, reduced impacts of ADHD.

Healthcare spaces

Post-operative recovery times decreased by 8.5%, and reduced pain medication by 22%.

Retail

The presence of vegetation and landscaping has been found to increase average rental rates on retail spaces with customers indicating they were willing to pay 8-12 % more for goods and services.

Homes

Home spaces can become more calming and restorative, with 7-8 % less crime attributed to areas with access to nature, and can command an increase of 4-5% in property price.

5. Examples of how Biophilia can be used in interior design, and architecture.

There are several ways in which we incorporate biophilic design principles into our designs – for example, plants, planted green walls, water feature and the use of natural materials such as stone and timber.

Plants

Planting a substantial number of shrubs and trees, using wood and stone for bridges and paths and installing water elements such as a pond or a fountain can transform the arrival experience and create a sense of serenity which is often absent in the raw urban environment.

Patterns / Forms

Biophilic design can also take a more indirect form – for example, the use of images of trees, lakes, etc., or the creation of biomorphic forms and patterns. There is a move among designers towards combining natural materials in new and interesting ways.

Natural light

An important aspect of the biophilic approach is to ensure that there is abundant natural light and views out over the exterior landscape. In addition, we are seeing more and more demand for outdoor spaces, including balconies, terraces and rooftop spaces, and these should also be designed with biophilic principles in mind.

Natural Materials

References to nature both abstract and literal can enhance well-being. 

The use of natural materials, such as stone and wood, and extensive greenery are obvious ways in which to incorporate biophilic elements into an architectural or interior design.

Wall Art

In addition to making a statement, turns out, the ever-trendy banana leaf wallpaper can have calming effects. So too can a simple photograph of the beach  or imagery of natural wonders. Also consider wall art that mimics hexagonal fractal patterns found in nature, or take a literal approach with actual greenery and vertical gardens.

Final thoughts

Research has shown that having a connection with nature has a positive impact on mental health and productivity. As little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting can improve mood and motivation.”

Feeling happy and upbeat has a positive effect on our overall health and how we function. Stress can cause physical symptoms and vice versa. Green spaces and views onto nature have a calming effect and can improve our physiological state as well as our cognitive abilities. Studies show that the positive impact of contact with plants, water and sunlight is measurable in the workings of our brains. Our brainwaves can change from a state of anxiety to one that is more relaxed.

References
https://www.chapmantaylor.com/news/q-a-what-are-the-benefits-of-biophilic-design
https://www.ansgroupglobal.com/news/principles-and-benefits-biophilic-design
https://www.reminetwork.com/articles/the-importance-of-biophilic-design/

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