Biophilic Design is about far more than just plants. But many design professionals still underestimate biophilia's potential. The Nature of the Space is arguably the most powerful aspect of biophilic design on human wellness. Whether you term it Neuro Aesthetics or Subliminal Design, it's that aspect that just happens - somewhere deep in our brains.

Not Plants

A conversation about 'the nature of the space' with an interior and architectural designer recently highlighted to us the challenges around integrating biophilic design principles into our pieces. To the extent that they deliver on the purpose of wellbeing and connection to ‘nature’ that we aim for, the integration of biophilic principles needs to be more than ‘great planting’.

Biophilic design as a term has become common parlance. But the true understanding of biophilia is still developing. The easy concept is that biophilia is about nature – so, according to our interior designer friend, adding plants to the room is what’s required. And, the more plants the better.

But greenery is only the start of the story – and really, the easiest part of biophilia to understand and implement.

The human brain needs context when learning new concepts and possibly, we’re now so far removed from the natural world, that the best and only contextual analogy we can draw on when thinking about biophilia, is living green stuff.

People First

Designing biophilia into a piece of furniture isn’t actually the major stop on the creative path. Consideration of people and their needs is the place we, at PLN Group, start. Biophilia is simply the research-backed design ethos we already know delivers on a range of mostly sub-conscious human needs – widely termed neuro aesthetics.

Your Happy Place

A person's Happy Place in Nature
We don't fully understand why our happy place is in the natural world

The story needed to properly understand biophilia is largely lost to our conscious minds – even though it most certainly exists in our sub-conscious.

Take a look at the image above. A girl, completely at home in an entirely natural setting: her happy place. The Nature of the Space is how we translate that feeling into a built environment.

We can’t readily explain why 95% of people will summon up images of a beach or forest or mountain when asked to think of their happy place. We don’t understand why being in a cosy, quiet space feels so good. Identifying why we feel joy when looking at a wide-open vista is beyond us. We feel, but can’t comprehend, that frisson of excitement when discovering something or someplace previously hidden.

It’s a primal feeling. Yet, undeniably, all of these things are true. Those feelings happen and are largely positive.

The Nature of the Space

These 'feelings' all come under the heading of the Nature of the Space, the toughest bit to get, but arguably the most powerful part of biophilic design. That which delivers on human wellbeing encoded into our DNA and derived from centuries of human existence. Refuge, prospect, mystery and risk are the less tangible elements of biophilia that complete the picture.

So, how do we, or any spatial or product designer, incorporate the Nature of Space into the things we create?

A table can be just a table – a broad top supported by legs of some kind. But how do you take that basic, age-old design and add a biophilic aspect to it that will actually have a positive effect on the humans that will use it?

As we say, “the world doesn’t just need another piece of furniture”.

CORE Table: Biophilic design: The Nature of the Space
The CORE Table: Biophilic Design - The Nature of the Space

Blair's Take...

Blair McKolskey, PLN’s MD and driver of a research-lead design process, first asks:

“Can products actually be crafted to fit in specific spaces tasked with delivering on one or more of these elements?

Mystery as an example, relies upon designers anticipating and creating conditions that are a progression in a user’s experience versus a single experience in a space.

The built environment and/or product experiences could potentially deliver on this. However the fusion of both product and built interiors can enhance the progression essential for creating the mystery experience.”

Refuge is an increasingly essential element in modern built environments, particularly workplace environments.

The increasing connectedness of life demands the opportunity to disconnect and quieten the brain’s hypothalamus which, directed by the amygdala, controls our “fight or flight” response.”

How Tension Builds

Constant demand and being subject to pressures to deliver more with less can create internal conflict on how to achieve the unachievable. This tension activates the amygdala, which primes the body for conflict by releasing chemicals via the hypothalamus, enabling the body to flee or battle. When continually exposed to this pressure the physical and psychological states deteriorate.

Biophilic experiences such as refuge can be used to quieten the brain and normalise the hypothalamus thereby restoring more normal cognitive functions. Managing conditions such as light colour temperature or visual and acoustic stimuli are all important.

Implementing Solutions

Nautilus Shell and Acoustic Nautilus Light
The Acoustic Nautilus Light: Natural Analogue and Nature in the Space biophilic aspects

The use of fractal patterns and non-rhythmic stimuli are proven methods of calming the brain and enhancing recovery from stressful situations. Use and deployment of both in product and built environments are increasingly common and more visible.

Acoustic work pods and lighting are two examples that are being used to compliment the built environment’s potential. But fractal fabrics or designs that ‘hug’ the user will also deliver. Gentle air flow that is random in nature can provide a non-rhythmic stimulus, but feasibly, so could a light source that mimics cloud racing across the sky, blocking and unblocking the sun’s glare. Imagine yourself lying on a beach on a warm day. That feeling of the warm sea breeze on your skin and the light changing as the occasional cloud casts a shadow. It's a ‘cosy’, safe feeling. Replicate that in the built environment and stress recovery should follow.

We love to talk biophilics and design. Give us a call and let's chat. +64 (0)9 828 4274 | [email protected]