Opportunity abounds when we let nature inspire design.
When I was a kid, my family would vacation “up north” in the UP, which meant time outside. Whenever we went up north, my mom would always say, “There’s something about the air up here.” It took awhile, but I finally understood what she meant. There is something about the air “up there”. There’s also something about being outside, which is what biophilic design is all about.
Understanding the word biophilic is relatively easy. The root, bio, comes to us from the Greek, bios, which means “life”. Philic, which also comes from the Greek, philos, means “loving”. So, biophilic design means design that is “life loving”.
Nature, the living world outdoors, is literally our home. Science teaches us that we emerged, or evolved from the Earth system. In other words, we are intricately linked to the outdoors. One might say it’s in our DNA.
E.O. Wilson, a pioneering scholar whose work revolutionized our understanding of the natural world, is credited with coming up with the philosophy of biophilia. According to the E.O. Wilson Foundation website, Wilson’s Biophilia, published in 1984, “…explored the evolutionary and psychological basis of humanity’s attraction to the natural environment.” The work provides the scientific foundation for biophilic design.
The idea is really quite simple. As living creatures, we have an affinity or love for the natural world, but because we spend so much time indoors, our health literally suffers. A recent NBC article notes: “Growing evidence suggests that interacting with nature makes people happier and healthier. Surgical patients go home sooner if their hospital rooms have a view outside, for example. A walk in the park can boost the concentration of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And spending time in a forest has been shown to lower stress levels and blood pressure while boosting immune function.” So, the idea behind biophilic design is to bring the natural world indoors.
Using plants to decorate an interior space is something reflective of biophilic design. According to a Fast Company article, there’s growing demand, among millennials who live in urban areas, for plants, and this is driving a boom in plant growing start-ups. But biophilic design goes beyond this simple notion: It’s actually driving a shift in architectural practice.
A recent Architectural Design article indicates biophilic design is much more than just a “trend”. The article highlights a number of developments that are grounded in biophilic design. Additionally, tech companies Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have all constructed office buildings using biophilic design. The biophilic design movement opens a number of different doors, many of which could lead to sustainable business opportunities.
Biophilic design is largely concerned with aesthetics, but what if we combine it with the selection of materials used for construction? What if we entered a building that brought nature indoors and was constructed of materials that lower environmental impacts? Rather than using metal for structural components, what if we only used wood? What if, upon entering a building that feels like nature, one knew it was constructed in a way that didn’t destroy the environment?
Mass timber and hempcrete are two examples of renewable building materials that reduce negative environmental impacts. Growing wood and hemp is easy in Michigan, and there’s no reason, other than lack of imagination and political will, that we cannot transition to widespread use of these materials in building construction. By combining biophilic design with sustainable building practices, we can create tremendous opportunities for economic growth and meaningful work.
So, the next time you’re outdoors, pay attention to whether you feel a bit healthier and more alive, and then think about the possibilities.