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5 Easy Ways to Use Biophilic Design to Connect with Nature

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A living wall is an ideal example of biophilic design.

Biophilia. What does this strange word mean? Studies have shown that all three mind-body systems—cognitive, psychological, and physiological—are impacted by one’s environment. That’s where biophilic design comes in. It uses evidence-based, nature-inspired design to ensure people’s health and wellbeing are not only maintained but actually improved by their environments. Here are the five most important aspects of biophilic design:

1. Visual Connection with Nature

Viewing scenes of nature stimulates a larger portion of the visual cortex than non-nature scenes. This helps trigger more pleasure receptors in our brain. Establish a view to elements of nature, living systems, and natural processes, such as through a window or a balcony, and arrange furniture to maximize any views. Heart rate recovery has been shown to occur 1.6 times faster when a space has a glass window with a nature view versus a high-quality simulation, such as a video, of the same nature view or no view at all. 

2. Non-Visual Connection with Nature

Our sight is not the only way we perceive our surroundings. Exposure to nature sounds, when compared to urban or office noise, accelerates physiological and psychological restoration up to 37 percent faster after a psychological stressor. These sounds can also reduce cognitive fatigue and help increase motivation. Incorporating nature sounds and aromatherapy into a space aren’t options just reserved for a spa anymore. Participants of one study who either listened to river sounds or saw a nature movie with river sounds during a post-task restoration period reported having more energy and greater motivation after the restoration period compared to participants who only listened to office noise or silence. In addition, viewing a nature movie with a river soundtrack during the restoration period had a more positive effect than only listening to river sounds alone. Combining methods makes the positive impact even greater. The act of touching pets and real plant life, versus synthetic plants, has been shown to induce relaxation through a change in cerebral blood flow rates. 

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3. Thermal & Airflow Variability

People like variations in light, sound, and temperature. Even subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, or surface temperatures can help to mimic natural environments. Consider how welcome a cool breeze is on a hot sunny day or a rest upon a warm rock on a chilly afternoon. Providing variable conductance materials, seating options with differing levels of solar heat gain (indoors and outdoors), or proximity to operable windows can create opportunities for these moments of change, thus improving the overall satisfaction of a space.

4. Presence of Water

The sounds created by small-scale running water, and our capacity to touch it, are healing. Views of large bodies of water or physical access to natural or designed water bodies also have healing effects so long as they are perceived as “clean” or unpolluted. Images of nature that include water are also more likely to help reduce blood pressure and heart rate than similar imagery without water.

5. Dynamic & Diffuse Light

In nature, we encounter varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time. Sunlight changes color from yellow in the morning to blue at midday to red in the afternoon and evening. The changes affect our body temperature, heart rate, and even circadian functioning. Higher content of blue light produces serotonin, whereas an absence of blue light (which occurs later in the day and at night) produces melatonin. The balance of serotonin and melatonin are linked to sleep quality, mood, alertness, depression, breast cancer, and other health conditions. It’s exciting to see such a growth in both research and application of biophilic design practices, especially as we continue to spend many hours indoors. Every space can be improved upon with some, or all, of these biophilic design principles.

About The Author
Photo of Elsa Garcia

Elisa leads Zen Spaces, a wellness-focused interior design firm based in Santa Barbara, CA. She is a licensed architect, interior designer, and construction manager with 32 years of experience. She’s also a self-proclaimed science nerd. Elisa grew up working in her father’s architectural and development firm. Being that it was the 1970s in California, her dad was interested in meditation, creative visualization, and Eastern philosophies and shared his ideas with his young daughter while driving her around to his building sites on the weekends. Elisa’s passion for organic, nature-inspired design was fueled when she read Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography at the age of 15. At the age of 18, Elisa went to work for several interior design and construction management firms for the following 15 years. She then started her own firm when she obtained her architectural license in 2004.