- Biophilia is humans’ innate biological connection with nature.
- Biophilic design can reduce stress and it can improve memory, creativity, and overall wellbeing.
- Terrapin laid out 14 patterns of biophilic design to make it easier to move from biophilia theory into practice.
Biophilic design encompasses design practices that seek to reconnect humans with nature. Research has shown that biophilic design reduces stress, expedites healing, and improves cognitive function, creativity, and wellbeing.
Biophilia is defined as humans’ innate biological connection with nature. For decades, researchers, writers, architects, designers, psychologists, and many more have argued and proved that incorporating nature elements improves humans’ satisfaction with the built environment.
Terrapin’s “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design” paper analyzes the history of biophilia and how it can be best implemented into built environments.
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According to the paper, biophilia, “as a field of applied science, is the codification of history, human intuition and neural sciences showing that connections with nature are vital to maintaining a healthful and vibrant existence as an urban species.”
Today, biophilic design is championed as a complementary strategy to address workplace stress, student performance, patient recovery, community cohesiveness, and overall wellbeing.
Studies have shown that exposure to and experiences of natural environments “provide greater emotional restoration, with lower instances of tension, anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion and total mood disturbance than urban environments with limited characteristics of nature.”
Moreover, biophilic design can also trigger physiological responses that can relax the muscles and lower diastolic blood pressure and stress hormones in the bloodstream. A mere 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in or connection to nature can elicit positive emotions and mental restoration.
In the paper, Terrapin argues that biophilic design can be organized into three categories: nature in the space, natural analogues, and nature of the space. These categories consider nature as all living organisms and nonliving components of an ecosystem and they can facilitate the implementation of biophilic elements into the built environment.
Each of these categories comes with a number of biophilic patterns that can improve the overall indoor experience. Great biophilic design is varied and combines several patterns for optimal results, however the application of Terrapin’s patterns is dependent on available space and financial resources. These patterns can be applied in different scales: micro-space, rooms, entire buildings, neighborhoods, campuses, or even city-wide.
Here is a brief overview of each biophilic design category and its respective applicable patterns.
Nature in Space
This category addresses the direct, physical, and ephemeral presence of nature in a space or place. This can be achieved by including plant life, animals, water, sounds, scents, and other natural elements into the built environment.
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The 7 patterns that make up this category are:
- Visual connection with nature: providing views of nature, living systems, and natural processes. This can be through a window, paintings, and decorations.
- Non-visual connection with nature: this includes auditory, haptic, olfactory, and gustatory stimuli that create a reference to nature. Think of white noise in the form of water, fire, or bird sounds. It can also include scenting strategies with essential oils like rosemary (which helps improve memory).
- Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli: this includes stochastic (random) and ephemeral connections with nature that occur every 20 minutes for approximately 20 seconds. This can take the form of visual, auditory, or scent connections.
- Thermal and airflow variability: this pattern is about implementing subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow, and surface temperatures so that they mimic natural environments. Though it’s common practice to keep the temperature at the same level all day, this is not recommended.
- Presence of water: water improves the built environment experiences since its something that can be heard, seen, and touched. You can include a water wall in your design, have a small aquarium, or simply play water sounds.
- Dynamic and diffuse light: the goal of this pattern is to mimic light conditions that naturally occur in nature. Today there are various lighting options that can help regulate a person’s circadian rhythm.
- Connection with natural systems: this refers to awareness of natural processes of a healthy ecosystem. This can be accomplished by integrating rainwater capture and treatment systems or by providing visual access to existing natural systems in a building’s environment (like large windows if your building is near a forest or park).
Natural analogues “address organic, nonliving, and indirect evocations of nature.” These are often found in objects, materials, colors, shapes, sequences, and patterns used in the built environment’s design like wood, artwork, furniture, decorations, textiles, and ornamentation.
The 3 patterns that make up this category are:
- Biomorphic forms and patterns: these are symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured, or numerical arrangements that persist in nature. This can be applied by embracing curves and asymmetrical patterns in furniture, wall decorations, and floor tiles.
- Material connection with nature: using materials and elements from nature like wood, grains, stone, color, and texture. Pro tip: use materials that reflect the local ecology or geology to incite a greater sense of connection.
- Complexity and order: rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to the ones encountered in nature. This pattern can be applied through artwork, wall decorations, carpets, and ceiling structures.
Nature of the Space
This category refers to the spatial configurations found in nature, like our innate desire to be able to see beyond our immediate surroundings and have visual exit opportunities.
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The 4 patterns that make up this category are:
- Prospect: which is an unimpeded view over a distance. This can be achieved by having windows, glass doors, balconies, etc.
- Refuge: which is a place for withdrawal from environmental conditions; this can take the form of private offices, booths, or nooks.
- Mystery: this can be achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment. To achieve this in the built environment, designers can create curved hallways and play with light/shadows, sounds, vibrations, and materials.
- Risk or peril: providing a threat with a reliable safeguard. This can be achieved through double-height atriums with a balcony or bridge, floor to ceiling transparency, and large-sized artwork.