While many clients appreciate the value of LEED-certified homes and commercial buildings, few are familiar with biophilic design. Here are some talking points to help design professionals educate laypersons about the elements and benefits of connecting people with nature in the built environment.
As the public learns about the benefits of sustainable building practices, the demand for LEED-certified commercial and residential building is rising significantly. According to the U.S Green Building Council, green commercial buildings accounted for 20 percent of new construction in 2013. Additionally, industry experts forecast green residential construction, including both multifamily and single family homes, will account for 26 percent to 33 percent of the market by 2016. The primary factors driving this demand are to minimize energy consumption and conserve natural resources. To achieve these objectives, green design tends to focus on technological innovations with the human experience within these structures taking a backseat.
Biophilic Design: Bringing Human Factors into Sustainable Design
When laypeople hear the term “sustainable design,” they think of the way people affect the natural world around them. In contrast, biophilic design involves incorporating elements of nature into the built environment to bring benefits to people, such as an enhanced sense of wellbeing. In some ways, this approach takes the concept of sustainability to a new level. While a LEED certified structure is considered sustainable now, if people do not feel comfortable in the building, chances are they will not be motivated to maintain the building in the long-term. Eventually, the neglect leads to deterioration, resulting in the need to demolish the structure, thus negating its sustainability. What are the benefits of connecting people with nature in their homes and workplaces?
The Impact of Forming a Human-Nature Connection in the Built Environment
Research shows when people form a relationship with nature in their homes they experience:
• A restoration of cognitive and emotional energy
• Enhanced physical health as evidenced by decrease blood pressure and muscle tension
• A sense of being more connected to others
• A reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety
When biophilic design is used in commercial spaces, some of the benefits include:
• An 8 to 15 percent increase in worker productivity
• A 13 percent increase in worker’s perception of well-being
• A 75 percent increase in employee’s perception of being connected to their co-workers
• Improved employee engagement, decreased absenteeism, lower staff turnover
• Customers tend to spend more in retail spaces that incorporate biophilic design principles
• Students whose classrooms incorporate natural elements perform better than they do in spaces without a connection to nature
How to Achieve Client Objectives Using Biophilic Design Elements
A study exploring the effects of biophilic design in the workplace found certain elements had specific effects on people working in the space. The following table outlines some examples of how to create spaces that meet common client objectives for office space.
|Objective||Biophilic Design Elements|
|Optimize Workforce Productivity||
|Spur Inspiration and Creativity||
On the other hand, the following elements had an adverse impact on workplace performance:
• Predominately neutral color palettes, especially gray tones, tend to induce stress and feelings unwellness
• Windows with view of construction sites are stress inducing
• People who work in offices with artificial lighting and plants tend to miss work more often due to illness when compared to those working in spaces natural lighting and plants.
The Challenges of Incorporating Biophilic Design in Dense Urban Settings
With the influx of people into cities, the little remaining green spaces and natural vistas in urban centers are quickly disappearing. In addition, towering skyscrapers often block natural light, especially in offices and apartments located on lower levels. While incorporating biophilic design principles in urban setting poses challenges, Pam Campbell, an architect with the NYC firm COOKFOX, revealed some of her strategies in a recent interview.
Some of her suggestions include:
• Try to include access and/ or views to plant-filled outdoor terraces.
• Modern window glazing materials allows larger sized windows without sacrificing energy efficiency
• Creative use of screens, photographs, and patterns gives the impression of being in a natural environment when it is impossible.
• Both indoor and outdoor water features soften the harshness of dense urban environments.
What are your experiences with incorporating biophilic elements in your design plans? What feedback have you received from clients when you incorporate natural elements into residential or commercial spaces?