Last week, the BBC published an article discussing how we are all missing out on a daily dose of nature. The writer referred to a study published by the National Trust with the University of Derby, which suggested “that being connected with nature – noticing natural phenomenon every day – is linked to higher well-being.”
This understanding of the importance of our connection to nature is not new thinking. Back in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted argued that “… the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”. Studies have also proven that in hospitals, patients with a view to nature exhibit faster recovery rates than patients without a view to nature. And even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.
So, for those of us living in urban environments, what can we do to improve our connection with nature? Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating what is termed biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.
One of the strongest aspects of biophilic design is to have a visual connection with nature. The best way to achieve this is with a view of something natural through the window. So make sure you’re your furniture layouts and window treatments don’t impede your views. However, if views of nature are not the strong point of your home design, then bring this visual connection into your home by adding pot plants, a green wall, a water feature / aquarium, or even artwork depicting nature scenes.
We don’t only respond to nature through our sight, but also through touch, smell and sounds too. So make sure you chose natural textures such as wood, fur, stone, and textured fabrics, etc, as well as scents and sounds. Whenever you can, throw your windows open to let in natural breezes. Pets are also a great way to increase our connection with nature!
Natural shapes are also good sub-conscious connectors – circles, hexagons, and other fractal geometrics. These are easy to incorporate in wallpaper designs, rugs and tile shapes to name a few. And don’t forget to add colour – nature is full of colour! Think flowers, birds, sunsets, etc.
It is also important to consider how we lay out our spaces, as we are trying to incorporate elements of prospect and refuge. Prospect ensures that we have an unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning, while Refuge gives us a place for withdrawal from the environmental conditions and offers us protection. Think of a cave man standing at the entrance to his cave, or refuge, and surveying the surrounding countryside, or prospect. Our homes should include open plan layouts, balconies and landings where we can stand and survey or using transparent materials so as not to close off our views. But these should also be balanced with intimate refuge spaces – a snug, or a window seat – where we go to relax or meditate, to read or to think.
Basically, what we are trying to avoid with biophilic design is a white / beige / grey minimalistic box that seems to be what so many of us end up with because we get overwhelmed with making decisions on colours, and what works with what, that we default to something that slowly, sub-consciously wears us down.
To flourish, we need a combination of complexity and order in our surroundings. Spaces that are engaging and information-rich – a balance between boring and overwhelming. Does your home deliver this, or does it need some help?