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
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.