Go ‘biophilic’ with nature’s design

Biophilia is derived from Latin and means ‘Love of Life’.  Harvard biologist E O Wilson used the term to explain man’s inborn response to nature and his relationship to natural systems – “his urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  It would therefore make sense to describe biophilic design as the identification of our place in nature and using the built environment to maintain, restore and enhance physical and emotional connections to the natural world.


To many people nature means plants in a park or forest, but the weather and animals are also closely involved. People are attracted and have positive feelings towards certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.  Biophilia suggests keeping plants and flowers in and around a person. In other words, humans’ natural love for life helps to sustain life.


As people naturally gravitate towards places that include elements found in the natural environment – for example colleagues who prefer to eat their lunch outside in the park, or on a bench in an atrium filled with plants, rather than in a canteen – it would make sense to take these elements to the office, says Wilson. People prefer to be surrounded by nature, whether it is a hotel room, restaurant or workplace. When people have a closer connection with the natural world, they feel and perform better.


For this to happen buildings should be ‘biophilically designed’ to maximize their value and improve occupant experience to the level some enjoy by keeping and displaying plants and flowers at home. Rooms with these elements make people more productive, less stressed and allows them to learn and heal faster.


Nathalie Harper-Leblond, communications manager of Rentokil Initial’s Ambius division, says they experience positive results when contracted to introduce biophilic elements to buildings, even in high occupancy open plan areas. “By using combinations of plants and art, even fragrances, sound and light effects, Ambius enable businesses to improve the health, well-being and productivity of their workforce.”


“On top of this there’s the bonus of people gaining insight into the need to fight pollution and to protect wild areas and threatened species,” she adds.


Three main qualities define Biophilia and spaces with these qualities are comfortable and interesting and therefore help to improve employee productivity, satisfaction and retention.

1. Nature in the space refers to spaces that feel better when they are caringly filled with fresh air, natural daylight, water features and plant life. A green, planted wall that filters pollutants or a waterfall that is part of the cooling system can be functional too.  Such spaces offer visual and physical connection with nature, access to water, dynamic and diffused daylight and natural ventilation.

2. Nature of the space refers to a series of preferred spatial patterns. ‘Prospect’ refers to being able to look out from a high vantage point over unobstructed space, and ‘Refuge’ refers to finding comfort in a small, protected, enclosed area. These spatial patterns create a feeling of enticement, mystery and risk; humdrum becomes something of the past.

3. Natural equivalence is the use of natural materials and natural forms in the design, ornamentation and furnishing of a space. They imitate natural form, with natural, local materials as part of the design and offer both complexity and order.


Harper-Leblond points to the Biophilia webpage, which names the eight elements of interior landscaping design which their research have shown to be most effective. “The webpage also offers inspiration and suggestions around these eight elements, along with additional resources and a gallery of images to provide a visual guide to how the principles can be applied in the workplace,” she says.


For more information on biophilia or to get inspiration please visit http://www.ambius.co.za/biophilia/

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