We have an increasing knowledge of the negative health effects of environmental toxins. We’ve also had almost 2 years of Covid restrictions.
Never has it been more important to create environments that enhance occupant health and well-being. Biophilia and biophilic design has become more resonant for architects, designers, builders, employers and occupants of home and work spaces.
What is Biophilia and Biophilic Design
Biophilia is defined as the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living beings. It focuses on the human connection to the natural world. It is more than just a philosophy, as it has been found to support cognitive function, physical health and psychological well-being.
Biophilic design for buildings and interiors utilizes natural materials and patterns to support the physical and mental health and well-being of building occupants.
It’s not just about materials and green walls, but is a series of design techniques integrated into an environment.
Biophilic Design in Practise
Biophilic design involves bringing nature into the space with plants, water, fresh air, scents and light and expansive views. It also incorporates natural materials, patterns, objects, colours and shapes in both the building structure and furniture for a sensory experience.
Examples of applying Biophilic Design in a space:
“Bringing the outside in” can be achieved through sight, sound, smell and touch.
- Direct expansive views to the outside,
- Easy access from rooms to the exterior
- Foliage from trees casting shadows in the home
- Strategically placed windows opening next to fragrant plants in the garden.
- Light pouring in from skylights or atriums in offices surround occupants with light and greenery and possible passive ventilation.
- Abundant greenery inside and in roof gardens or green roofs where they can be seen from all rooms can create a relaxing effect.
- Mimicking natural patterns can be applied by framing windows in a honeycomb pattern
- Walls can mimic the curve of a wave.
- Light fixtures, wall coverings and art can include natural imagery and shapes.
- Curved staircases or handrails with natural forms invite the hand to touch with sculptural contours.
Warm wood flooring, wood cabinetry, natural stone countertops and bricks are all great materials being used. Using natural materials reduces exposure to chemicals found in common construction materials.
Which leads us nicely to the role timber can play in biophilic design.
The importance of timber in biophilia
Wood is an ingenious invention of nature. It provides a lot of flexibility in design and application.
- Wood regulates the heart rate, has natural antimicrobial properties and provides an outstanding tactile connection to nature.
- It improves productivity and concentration for those living and working in timber structures.
- Exposure to wood is correlated with a drop in cortisol, the primary hormone linked to negative impacts of stress.
- Studies have observed lower levels of blood pressure and heart rate in an environment where wood is present, compared with one where it is absent.
- And in one study, participants’ focus, and concentration improved when asked to perform a task in a room featuring exposed wood surfaces.
When structural timber is exposed inside a building or wood is used for ceilings, furniture or fixtures it can contribute to a healthy indoor environment.
In addition to wood’s natural warmth and appeal, its distinctive organic properties can offer thermal benefits and a balancing effect on interior moisture and humidity. Since wood is porous, it absorbs moisture when humidity levels are too high. It releases moisture into the air when humidity levels are too low. Wood’s relatively low thermal conductivity means it feels warmer to the touch than other building materials such as steel, concrete and masonry.
It’s light and strong to build with, and warm and welcoming to live with. And unlike plants, wood does not rely on access to windows and natural light. As a result, its biophilic health benefits extend even to windowless rooms where no natural light or landscape is present.
When applied in the form of mass timber (ideally with no added toxins in the form of glue) wood can offer aesthetic, biophilic and practical benefits. Long spanning structural DLT systems bring nature inside, offer lots of natural light and easily accommodate mechanical duct systems.
Benefits of Biophilia and Biophilic Design
Research is confirming what common wisdom has taught us—nature and the use of natural materials is good for us. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of biophilic design and timber-built architecture. There is much research to suggest it can boost employees’ morale, productivity and sense of wellness.
Benefits of Biophilic Design
Three human health benefits are closely associated with biophilic design.
- Recovery: Healthcare facilities with biophilic design have been shown to reduce patients’ postoperative recovery time.
- Circadian rhythm: Access to natural light throughout the day helps regulate your circadian rhythm, potentially helping you feel more rested and less stressed.
- Lower stress: Regular access to nature may help reduce your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, which correlates with lower stress
Here are other specific benefits from introducing biophilic design into your space:
- In offices productivity increases by 8%, well-being shoots up by 13%, and in addition to this absenteeism falls and staff are more engaged when in the office.
- In an Education environment the results are even more exciting! Learning rates can rise by 20-25%, test results improve, concentration levels increase, and ADHD effects are reduced.
- In a retail environment customers have said they are willing to pay 8-12% more for goods and services when in a space with biophilic elements, such as plants.
- In a healthcare environment the results are spectacular. Post-operative recovery times can be reduced by 8.5%, and the need for pain-reduction medication can be lowered by 22%.
- In hotels customers are willing to pay 23% more for rooms with a view of biophilic elements!
An example of Biophilia
The vast majority of Mountain Equipment Co-op’s (MEC) newer stores, as well as its head office, have embraced the use of wood and natural materials as a reflection of their corporate values. The Vancouver-based headquarters of Canada’s largest outdoor gear retailer is a spacious open concept plan, maximizing the warmth and beauty of its nail-laminated timber construction.
Interior Douglas-fir millwork screens offer an inviting alternative to traditional office cubicles. A double-beam configuration serves double duty: the exposed beams give warmth and architectural interest to the interior and their increased stiffness reduces deflections and floor vibrations. This acoustic benefit helps minimize distractions in an open office environment.
In speaking about their head office, Sandy Treagus, chief financial officer for MEC, said, “the vision was really about creating a space for our staff to show up on a daily basis and bring their best stuff. What we are trying to do is bring the natural environment inside the building and by using wood as our material of construction, we felt we were able to achieve that.”