What is Biophilic Design and Why is it Important?

“Nature” much? If your answer is “no” then you are not alone. As a culture, we have erected artificial as well as actual barriers between ourselves and nature. Our houses, cars, roads, and even our shoes are all byproducts of us removing ourselves from the natural world that once surrounded us.  While this separation may have brought us many modern comforts it also left our souls with a strong  yearning for nature. This phenomenon even has a name: it is known as the biophilia hypothesis or BET. Many modern architects and urban planners are now taking this idea into consideration when building their cities and buildings. All over the world, biophilia has become a new and exciting phenomenon that has captured the hearts of millions. In a lot of ways, the people of the world are taking a new look at nature and ultimately, slowly bringing it back into their lives. 

With that being said, getting out in nature is easier said than done. As a student at the University of Illinois, I am often swamped with homework and I trudge through my days thinking I have no time or energy to go outside. I believe that many Americans share this attitude. “There are just not enough minutes in the day,” a fellow student told me as we walked to class together. “I am just too crammed with papers and tests. I have to stay indoors to get good grades!” Studies show that my friend and I are not alone in with this dilemma. Americans now spend approximately 90% of their lives indoors (Klepeis, et al., 2001). 

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Ikea’s indoor sphere garden design © Joany. via Wundr Studio on Office Snapshots

Biophilia is more than just a feeling– it represents our innate primal need to experience ourselves interacting in nature. We can do this in a variety of ways, from taking a casual stroll outside to hiking the great Pacific Crest Trail. In whatever way you can get it, obtaining your daily dose of nature is truly vital to your health and well being. Interaction in nature has been shown to improve a vast array of conditions from stress, aggression, and anxiety to depression (Frumkin, et al., 2017). If more of us ventured into nature every day, we would live in a much more happy and healthy society.

The compelling notion of biophilic design has been around for centuries. Throughout human history, artists and designers have taken inspiration from nature and incorporated it into their work. Some famous examples include the Alhambra garden courtyards of Spain, the hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the papyrus ponds of Egyptian nobles among many others (Browning, Ryan, & Clancy, 2014, p. 6). The peoples of these cultures lived in close proximity to nature and did not have to look hard to find it. They generally used nature for aesthetic appeal. Just like modern landscape architects, these people used their natural environment to their advantage to achieve their aesthetic goals. As it turns out, we can do the same thing in modern times, just using slightly different techniques.

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Hanging Gardens of Babylon © History.com

Biophilic design is composed of complex parts that each play a role in making us feel immersed in nature. The different types of biophilic architecture and landscaping can include both organic and vernacular design. Organic design is defined as using nature itself as well as naturalistic shapes and symbols in the built environment. This may include rocks, plants, water, lighting, and sometimes even living animals. Vernacular design focuses more on the local aspects of culture and tradition within the regional area. Usually, using this type of design means using resources from the geographical area. It could also mean decorating the built environment with native plants and local species (Kellert, 2006). Most architects use both techniques when creating a layout of their biophilic designs.

Your entire environment does not have to be completely redone to implement biophilia into your everyday life. One significant thing you can do is add a small native plant or orient your desk closer to a window to get the maximum amount of natural light. Even though these may seem like minor changes, the benefits can be enormous. A visual connection with nature can improve your mood, attentiveness, and may even lower your blood pressure. In addition, letting more natural light into your life decreases stress on your eyes and repairs your circadian rhythm (Browning, Ryan, & Clancy, 2014).

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Natural lighting and indoor plants are small ways to incorporate biophilic design © EarthTalk

There are several other things you can do to implement non-visual biophilic designs components into the workplace or home as well. This requires trying to engage the rest of the four main senses in the body. One easy way to do this is using water. Running water stimulates your senses of hearing, touching, and smelling. The resulting auditory stimulation tends to speed up the rate of recovery after a stressful event, although sounds are heavily correlated with visual aspects. Studies on the olfactory systems after exposure to nature have been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system. Sadly, the hepatic (touch) and gustatory (taste) responses have not been studied enough to form concrete solutions but studies to date suggest actions resulting from this induce relaxation, at the least (Browning, Ryan, & Clancy, 2014).

The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) supports the idea that spending quality time outside or looking outside restores our mental capacity and focus aptitude (Kaplan, 1995). One can only attain full restoration though, when they give their “soft fascination” to nature (Izenstark & Ebata, 2016). Soft fascination allows the mind to wonder, without paying attention to one thing. Hard fascination, on the other hand, holds and keeps all our attention in one place at one time. This can be something as simple as reading a book. Studies have shown that nature helps restore our soft fascination which in turn restores our mental fatigue.  

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Biophilic architecture at Bosco Verticale, Boeri Studio in Miano, Italy © Pxhere

In one experiment, scientists asked 90 people to either look out a window at a natural landscape, watch a TV screen containing the same landscape as the window, or stare at a curtain after experiencing mild stress. The subjects heart rate recovery was then noted. The study found that the recovery rate of the people looking out the window and seeing actual nature, in-person, was much faster than the people looking at either the TV or curtain (Kahn, et al., 2008). The results of this experiment were touted as a reason to use biophilic design to improve productivity in the workplace.   

Biophilic design has become very popular in the last few years and use is projected to rise in the foreseeable future. As people become increasingly aware of the benefits of letting nature back into our lives, it is sure to become a much more widely used practice. Taking inspiration from past architecture may help us create new and innovative designs while helping us preserve traditions and cultures. With the help of biophilic design, employers can significantly improve the psychological and physiological lives of their employees and clients. You too can do many things to improve your life by letting just a little bit of nature back into your environment. And if all else fails, just try your best to #GetOutside! 

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Biophilic designs can include greenery, natural light, flowing water, air ventilation, nature sounds, natural materials, and much more © Home Stratosphere

For further reading:

  • Browning, W., Ryan, C., & Clancy, J. (2014). 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: improving health and wellbeing in the built environment. (A. Hartley, Ed.) Washington: Terrapin Bright Green LLC. Retrieved from http://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/14-Patterns-of-Biophilic-Design-Terrapin-2014p.pdf 
  • Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn Jr, P. H., Lawler, J. J., . . . Wood, S. A. (2017, July 31). Nature and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi:https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1663 
  • Izenstark, D., & Ebata, A. T. (2016, June). Theorizing Family-Based Nature Activities and Family Functioning: The Integration of Attention Restoration Theory with a Family Routines and Rituals Perspective. Journal of Family Theory & Review (8), 137-153. doi:10.1111/jftr.12138
  • Kahn, P. H., Friedman, B., Hagman, J., Severson, R. L., Freier, N. G., Feldman, E. N., . . . Stolyar, A. (2008, May). A plasma display window? —The shifting baseline problem in a technologically mediated natural world. Journal of Environmental Psychology (28), 192-199. 
  • Kaplan, S. (1995, September). The restorative benefits of nature: toward and integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology (15), 169-182. 
  • Kellert, S. R. (2006). Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Renewable Resources Journal (24), 8-11; 23-24. 
  • Klepeis, N. E., Nelson, W. C., Rott, W., Robinson, J. P., Tsang, A. M., Switzer, P., . . . Engelmann, W. H. (2001, July 24). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, 11, 231- 252. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jea.7500165
  • Rogers, K. (2010). Biophilia Hypothesis. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/biophilia-hypothesis

New Years and Nature

The New Year is the most tangible symbol of new beginnings – of resolutions and promises – and hopefully, some new goals about encouraging yourself to #getoutside this year and spend more time in nature. As we wrap up our celebrations of New Year 2018 and the Chinese New Year 2018 (Year of the Dog), here is a short list of New Year celebrations from around the year, with rituals based in nature:

  • Scotland

    Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year celebration, takes place on New Years Eve and is known all over the world for the beautiful way it is celebrated with fireworks, bonfire festivals, and the singing of the Auld Lang Syne. Few know, however, that a common Hogmanay ritual involves cleaning the house (like we would for Spring cleaning) then walking from room to room with a smoldering juniper branch to ward off sickness and evil spirits. Old rural traditions involve blessing the house with holy water from a local stream before filling the house with the purifying smoke from the juniper branch. The Loony Dook, however, is the craziest of all Hogmanay rituals! On January 1, all Scots in South Queensferry gear up in fancy dress and jump into the frigid water of the Forth River – raising money for charity at the same time. Extreme form of an ice-bucket challenge!?

hogmanay

  • Brazil

    Everyone who has celebrated New Years in Brazil knows that is is tradition to wear white, to ensure peace during the incoming year. People also wear other light colors like green to symbolize good health. The biggest New Year ritual, however, is the appeasing of the sea goddess Lamanjá. On New Year’s Day, people throw offerings such as rice and flowers into the sea to please the goddess, who is believed to be the one who controls the waters. People also jump over 7 different sea waves: if they succeed, Lamanja is supposed to bring them good luck in the year.

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  • Slovenia

    New Year or Novo Leto is celebrated in Slovenia with lots of lights and nut cake. You are expected to wake up early to have a good and productive new year. An old Slovenian tradition, originating from the city of Kocevje was, however, to climb on top of a tall tree the day before New Years Day  – to gaze into the future and see what the new year may bring. Nature also plays an important part in the celebration on Easter in Slovenia: the beganica is a bouquet made out of branches from seven different days and is used for conferring blessings.

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  • Bangladesh

    The New Year in Bangladesh is called Pohela Boishakh and is celebrated on the 14th of April. It is also known as the Bangla (Bengali) New Year in India and falls on the same day as the Nepalese New Year. Pohela Boishakh is traditionally celebrated when people gather under a big (usually Banyan) tree or the banks of a river to watch the New Year sunrise. They then begin the first day of the new year by taking a dip into a holy river and participating in a big cultural procession called a jatra, where women deck their hair in flowers and wear colorful flower crowns. Symbols of nature are everywhere during the jatra parade, with everyone carrying giant colorful masks and decorations shaped like flowers, birds, and animals.

boishakhi mela

  • Belgium

    The New Year must-dos in Belgium are eating a first meal of sauerkraut,  and making sure to put a coin underneath the plate before eating. Similar to Halloween and Christmas Eve, children visit their neighbors and sing them songs and receives sweets in return. Because of the strong reliance the country used to have on nature and their livestock, it is still a big tradition in rural Belgium to wake up on January 1st and whisper a happy new year to cows and cattle. Those without their own farm animals wish their pet animals a happy new year instead. This sweet gesture is believed to bring good luck to the family for the rest of the year.

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DisclaimerAll images are fair use and sourced from the world wide web. 

Feel the Ground Beneath You!

Hiking has proven to make adults lead a happier, healthier, and more energy-filled life. What’s better than getting energized from caffeine? Hiking in nature! All hikers do have to tolerate some bug bites, bruises, and blisters to enjoy quality time with nature but trust me, it is so worth it! For example, this past month, I joined the ranks of many other nature walkers and went hiking with my family in Lake Tahoe, California.

 

 

When I was in San Francisco, we went to a few hiking trails, and it was very relaxing. Hiking helped us freshen up, and it was even better when we could smell the fresh air. I felt like I got so much energy afterwards, and the cold shower after we were done felt amazing. My parents being almost 50 years old felt like they were more mentally refreshed. My dad said that connecting with nature felt really nice and he thinks it could help with depression. Well, he is correct! Hiking and getting involved with nature helps you feel less hopeless. It helps people who are suffering lead a healthier lifestyle. Studies show that people who do not spend much time in nature have more mental health issues. People who go to parks and on walks have lower levels of stress. However, just doing that is not good enough. You really have to make sure you put away the electronics when you are in nature. You are not getting all of the benefits if you’re on your cellphone. This is not only a rule for people with mental health issues, but for all of us! Hiking helps us all in many ways. It can make us feel peaceful and teach us how to really connect with ourselves.

According to an article published in the widely respected Physical Activity and Public Health journal, healthy adults need to engage in moderately intense aerobic activities for a minimum of 30 minutes at least five days a week in order to maintain sound health. Adults are highly recommended to keep good health by doing exercise to strengthen muscles, and this can be something as fun as hiking.

Hiking works your leg muscles and is far more effective than simply walking. This is because you are more heavily working your leg muscles. Many people in the US have health issues because they do not exercise enough. The Physical Activity and Public Health journal mentions that less than 49.1% of U.S. adults met the CDC physical activity recommendation. Hiking trails are a fun and good way to exercise. Even in your free time, you should be active. Sitting around makes you lazier and you are less likely to get up and do something else later. Being active can even include going on vacations and other things. However, we eat a lot when we are out, so it’s important that we exercise on vacation as well. In a research article published at Claremont University, we see that the Appalachian Trail is a good example of a National Park that we can hike on. Many people want good scenery when exercising, and this park is perfect.

Now, does this make you want to hike? If so, get ready to hear the crunch of leaves beneath your feet. Hiking is not as hard as you may think, and it is even better if you pair up with someone. That way, both of you can experience the beautiful world underneath!


For further reading: 

  • Bosche, Lucy. “Woman Into The Wild: Female Thru-Hikers and Pilgrimage on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails” Scripps Senior Thesis, Page 203., doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720
  • Kastenholz, Elisabeth and Aurea Rodrigues. “Discussing the Potential Benefits of Hiking Tourism in Portugal, Anatolia.” 18:1, Pages 5-12., doi.org/10.1080/13032917.2007.9687033 
  • Haskell, William. “Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.” Faculty Publications, Pages 1423-1434., doing.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3180616b27