With the chaos of today’s culture, society is turning to Mother Nature for comfort. The term “biophilia,” as popularized by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson in 1984, refers to “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” While some may get the impression being around plants is merely a warm and fuzzy concept, the truth is that humans crave a connection with nature at a core level. We function better, are happier and healthier when living interconnected with natural elements. The biophilia trend is already shaping a variety of industries today and has the potential to transform our future.
URBAN PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Following the industrial revolution and urbanization in the mid 19th century and early 20th century, metropolitan areas have grown so fast that they feel separate from nature. Doctor and researcher Timothy Beatley explains that, “due to the increasing urbanization of our planet, ‘nature-ful cities’ is an ever more urgent need.” The truth is that humans are part of nature and function best in natural environments.
Today’s urban planners are beginning to recognize that the cold, claustrophobic, corporate-focused city centers are not only less optimal, but harmful for the health of their residents. Cities with less nature experience increased rates of crime and health costs. By adding green space to your city, public spaces become safer and people have more potential to thrive.
Takeaway: To enhance nature in your city, consider: tree-lined streets, gardens, urban orchards and parklets (individual parking spaces turned into min-parks). One popular design element are moss walls, which are increasingly featured along the sides of buildings, business lobby’s, apartment entries, retail stores, and restaurants.
OFFICE AND HOME CONSTRUCTION DESIGN
The construction industry has brought biophilic design principles into both professional and personal spaces. As research studies illustrating the many benefits of green space become stronger, architects are gaining a deeper appreciation and affinity for natural environments. It’s not about adding more plants per se, but considering how an environment can be more holistic, sustainable and inspired by the earth.
From inspiring innovation to improving brain function, biophilic design can do wonders for office workers, increasing productivity by 8% and of well-being by 13%. When building their Seattle headquarters, Amazon created spheres of internal forest gardens, filled with over 40,000 plants. Employees from all different vantage points can see and enjoy these treehouses, “a direct link to nature.”
A natural office environment can also positively impact employee attendance. Consider that 10% of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with no connection to nature. Integrating views to nature into an office space can save over $2,000 per employee per year in office costs.
Takeaway: To enhance nature in your home or work space, consider: glass walls, terraces, fountains, vertical gardens, wooden furniture, natural light and skylights and merging inner and outer spaces. Natural patterns, textures and colors can also bring new beauty, light and life into an otherwise stark setting.
Unlike those of the 20th century, health systems are now harnessing the power of plants to help their patients recover more quickly. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, gardens are now featured in the design of most new hospitals. According to a study by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, patients with windows facing plants healed faster, used less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who faced brick. Research in an article by Scientific American says that “Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and induce relaxation.”
In Norway, two major hospitals are taking nature-inspired treatment one step further. They have created Outdoor Care Retreats for young and sick children, known as “friluftssykehuset.” Blending the Norwegian term friluftsliv, meaning the importance of spending time in nature and the word hospital, these forested spaces are ideal to heal. Being surrounded by verdant woodlands and natural bodies of water spark not only joy, but repair and restoration. Unlike traditional treatment settings, these natural havens inspire health, hope and happiness.
A number of hospitals also offer “horticultural therapy” alongside a trained therapist. This type of gardening activity allows patients to focus on the positive aspects of their health and what they can create with their hands. Scientific studies have shown that healing improved for patients with plants in their room.
Some doctors encourage people to engage in the Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” which is all about walking through the woods. The physiological effects of experiencing a forest have the ability to “promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.” It’s estimated that “over $93 million could be saved annually in healthcare costs as a result of providing patients with views to nature.” Nature could impact the future of medicine, from both preventative and treatment standpoints.
Takeaway: To enhance nature in your healthcare settings, consider: luscious, lively greenery, mature trees, enjoyable water sounds, easy entryways, wide walkways and spaces that engage the senses.
With more time spent indoors and connected to technology, many children are missing out on critical developmental growth and life skills. When schools incorporate biophilic design and offer more natural settings, learning is enhanced at an extraordinary rate – by nearly 20-26%. Improved test scores, better concentration and attendance levels are a few of the many more positive results.
Researcher Alan Ewert discovered that when participating in outdoor programs, children showed gains in the areas of “self-image, coping skills, cognitive and intellectual performance, physical health, personal values, and interpersonal and social interactions.” Furthermore, children are even less absent in schools surrounded by greater green space. More biophilic elements in schools can improve children’s skills, socialization and success.
Takeaway: To enhance nature in your schools, consider: more daylight, windows with direct views of nature, vegetable growing and gardening programs, rooftop play spaces, break times in natural settings and field trips.
When it comes to retail, cross-industry businesses are getting in on the biophilic design trend. It’s clear why – retail customers judge businesses surrounded by nature and natural features to be worthy of prices up to 25% higher than businesses with no access to nature.
The beauty industry, in particular, is a big fan of the biophilia trend. Whether it’s “clean” cosmetic products sourced from natural ingredients or earthly inspired storefront designs, the beauty scene has been quick to go green. One key example of a brand who has harnessed the power of nature in their store design is Glossier. In their Seattle pop-up shop, landscape designer Lily Kwong created a verdant oasis of meadows, moss-covered hills and colorful flowers. Brands that connect with consumer’s love for nature can drive up their profits while doing so.
Takeaway : To enhance nature in your stores, consider: landscaping, vegetation, flower design, plantscapes, moss walls and natural light.
Though modern society can feel separate from nature, we are restoring our relationship with the planet step by step (or plant by plant). The evidence proves that both you and your business benefit from nature. So, turn off your screens and step outside for a walk. Consider the many aspects of biophilic design that you can bring into your corporation, community or home. Plant the seeds now to build a brighter future to come.