​Design ​After ​Nature


What’s the theory behind our tendency to want to connect to nature? Biophilic design posits that human beings have a biological need to affiliate with nature.  

What other factors affect health? As human beings we are highly responsive to multi-sensorial experiences of nature—which are, in fact, profoundly important to human functioning, health and well-being. Research compiled by the University of Washington shows that both visual access and “being within green space helps the mind to focus” and can help “alleviate mental stress and illness.” In order to thrive, people need access to daylight and a pleasant view, while spaces that contain natural elements or provide access to the outdoors can offer cognitive respite, stimulate creativity and improve work performance.

The WELL Building Standard®, created by Delos® and the WELL Building Institute, notes that the impact of lighting on occupants is another of the primary elements that must be addressed to ensure that we design humancentric buildings and spaces. Multiple independent studies confirm that workers who get ample sunlight are more likely to be active, to sleep well and to enjoy better mental and physical health in general. In fact, the benefits of light are so great that some countries in Europe require that workers be within 27 feet of a window.

Research undertaken by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District involving 300 workers also found that a “better” view—gauged by size and vegetation content—was consistently associated with better worker performance. Furthermore, self-reports of good health were strongly associated with views and those with the widest views of the natural landscape were least likely to report negative health symptoms. Reports of chronic fatigue were strongly associated with a lack of natural light and outdoor views.

Artificial lighting—including office lighting and the light emitted by electronic devices—can disrupt our circadian rhythms, resulting in insufficient or poor quality sleep. And new findings suggest that a consistent pattern of restful sleep may be more important to our general health than diet or exercise. Poorly designed lighting can also result in eyestrain, headaches, blurred or double vision and increasing near or far-sightedness.

Natural light provides the best spectrum of light and allows the eye to refocus to different distances, thus maintaining the flexibility of the eye’s dilating muscles. The presence of natural vegetation, seen through a window or placed inside the office, also reduces stress and supports workers’ ability to focus their attention. Beyond plants placed here and there, companies are using “green walls” and “indoor forests” to bring more of nature into the office environment.

What’s the theory behind our tendency to want to connect to nature? Biophilic design posits that human beings have a biological need to affiliate with nature. For example, the preference for a wide landscape view relates to a hypothesis known as the “savanna principle,” which proposes that much of human evolution took place on the East African savanna and that a bias for a savanna-like landscape persists. Parks around the world, for example, are typically designed to resemble a grassland with widely spaced, spreading trees. At the same time, people like to view the “savanna” from a sheltered pathway or from above to avoid feeling exposed or vulnerable.

The concept of biophilic design arises from the recognition that the human mind and body evolved in a sensorially rich natural world that remains critical to our health and well-being. Thus, workspace design must take into account how human beings perceive, interpret and respond to space, as well as to natural light, artificial light and other aspects of their surroundings. Biophilic design connects the built environment with nature through strategies such as floor-to-ceiling and operable windows, naturally ventilated atria, indoor gardens and roof gardens, as well as organic forms and decorative motifs drawn from nature.

Biomimicry, as applied to design, is slightly different. It’s about learning from natural systems and processes to find effective solutions to design problems. Biomimicry may have an effect on the form or aesthetics of a building but it’s not simply about how buildings look—it’s about how they function. Biomimicry and biophilic design hold much promise for improving building architecture and design by drawing upon our innate affinity for nature—and on a broader scale, achieving sustained and reciprocal benefits between the built and the natural environment.