Biophilia: A Needed Connection

How can we access the practical necessities of the indoors, while obtaining the health benefits of the natural world outside? How can we be happy and healthy, while being productive in the technology driven society we have built around us? Ultimately, the question is: how can we obtain the best of both worlds? Well, the answer may come from Biophilic design.

Biophilia is a term that was popularized in the 1980s by American biologist Edward Wilson, and is derived from Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis works which suggest the existence of an innate attraction between humans and nature. Wilson had observed the increasing migration to urbanised settings, and he identified that as a result there was a slow disconnect from the natural world. Simply put, Biophilia means “a love of nature”, and it articulates the want of a needed connection. The hypothesis and modern take on biophilia is essentially a collective, emotionally driven, out-cry to be re-attached to what we have become disconnected from.

There are no research suggestions required to demonstrate that being indoors for an extended period of time is absolutely detrimental to our health and well-being; because we all feel the consequences of it from time to time, for sure. There’s that inexplicable feeling of just needing to break out of a place, to just be ridden of any and all confinements, and to just be in a space where we can breathe and experience the physical and mental space that we desperately need in that moment; cabin fever, you might call it.

Science has been saying for years that humans are designed to thrive outdoors, not indoors. Cases of low mental health, poor cognitive and respiratory functions, and an overall lack of well-being have all been scientifically backed to radically improve, and even heal in some cases, when a person is exposed to the natural world that’s entangled around us. Yet as a species, humans still spend on average 90% of the time indoors, away from the elements and away from the natural surroundings that once we relied upon. Creature comforts and the 9-5 work life have helped root us inside our breeze block walls, but a design revolution is quietly breaking them down.

Introducing biophilic design, an attempt to reconnect urban spaces back to nature. Stemming from Wilson’s research, this genre of design has been obscurely seeping into almost every aspect of the interior design process for the past 35 years. From the architectural planning of spaces, to the actual building of them, and right until the execution of the chosen interior design scheme. Every step of the modern design process is increasingly looking to biophilia for the answer to good health and well-being within urban spaces.

For the most part, biophilic design has only been consciously explored within commercial spaces, such as hospitals, office blocks, and a selection of popular bougie places, where it is financially viable to completely overhaul their current layout and scheme, in order to conduct and establish continuing research into the science behind biophilia. But so far, that research, such as the 2016 MIST report, is suggesting success in reconnecting people back to natural elements of the world beyond our breeze block walls, with results showing improved productivity, relaxation, and desire to be within a space.

But what does biophilic design actually look like for you and me in our humble homes? “When we think about biophilic design we tend to believe it’s all about cutting edge interiors with out-of-the-box layouts and show-stopping use of natural materials.” says award winning interior blogger Juan Sandiego, of Boreal Abode. “The truth is you can apply these biophilic principles to your home too, whether it is a period house or a new build.”

If you were browsing Instagram late in 2019, you may have sporadically drooled over jaw dropping shots of living walls dripping in greenery, thrown a like at aesthetically pleasing vertical herb gardens climbing perfectly organised kitchens, and commented delightful responses to pictures of bunches of hanging plants strewn around rooms making the spaces comparable to a small jungle. These are the simplest and most easily identifiable forms of domestic interior biophilic design.

But, before you rush out to the garden centre with a plan of re-creation, know that the beneficial effects of Biophilia can be experienced indirectly too; with natural colour schemes, raw materials, and organic shapes that pull together to mimic the natural flow and feel of nature. Aspects of the large scale, often elaborate biophilic design schemes can be filtered down and scaled back to an average house dwellers level with a little bit of inspiration and a touch of creativity.

“You may not be able to install a 20-foot waterfall feature, or introduce a 2 story high living wall, but enhancing your experience of nature is key. The easiest way is to introduce plants and dress the windows to maximise natural light (not forgetting to open them daily to improve indoor air quality)” Juan advises.


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