As Rilke’s writing suggests, we have much to learn from nature, and in accepting so we are strengthened. A synthesis of biology, architecture and psychology, the importance of biophilic design is gaining recognition in the built environment – from urban planning, to architecture and interior design.
In his 1984 book Biophilia, naturalist Edward O. Wilson defined biophilia as the inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature. Wilson’s theory proposes that the strong bonds we have with nature are rooted in our genetics as a mode of evolutionary survival.
Social ecologist Stephen Kellert, who further developed the concept of biophilia, points out that as humans evolved, the context for our physical and mental development was primarily a sensory world that deeply relied on environmental features such as light, sound, scent, wind, weather, water, vegetation, animals and landscapes.
Although humans are no longer largely dependent on these natural components for daily survival, research has concluded that a connection to nature in our built environment still remains vital to a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Biophilic components in our built environments have been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, levels of anxiety, and to increase mental focus, just to name a few. The benefits to quality of life, health, and humanity as a whole are limitless.
A study by architect Ihab Elzeyadi attributed a sizable 10% of workplace absences to architecture with no connection to nature, as highlighted in The Economics of Biophilia: Why Designing with Nature in Mind Makes Financial Sense, a publication by environmental consulting firm Terrapin Bright Green.
In Elzeyadi’s study, 30% of offices overlooked a manicured landscape that had trees and natural daylight; 31% overlooked a street, and the remaining 39% had no outside view. Elzeyadi found that the quality of employees’ view from their offices considerably affected their work behavior. Not only did the employees with the nature view take less sick leave, they were also happier and more productive.
Likewise, evidence-based healthcare designer Dr. Roger Ulrich found hospital patients with a bedside view of trees recovered faster than those assigned to identical rooms with a view of a brick wall.
The patients with the nature view required significantly fewer doses of strong pain medication, had shorter hospitalisation duration, and experienced lower levels of stress than those with the wall view.