Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

Biophilic design is increasingly becoming the buzz word of the moment, but what exactly is it?  The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows instil fascination and fear; and why animal companionship has restorative, healing effects.

But why is this important?  The answer to that question is because humans are now spending around 90% of our time indoors.  And as we become more urbanised and depend more on technology, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature.  We exist in highly controlled spaces, with even lighting, a constant temperature, and straight lines everywhere.  But if you think about it, this is not how nature operates.  In the natural world, the light levels change throughout the day.  Shadows move around.  There are breezes, and birdsong, and not a straight line in sight! 

Biophilic design has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and speed up healing.  And it is essential for providing people with healthy places in which to live and work. 

So how can we bring nature into our spaces?  And is there more to biophilic design than simply adding pot plants to your home?

One of the strongest aspects of biophilic design is having a visual connection with nature.  And yes, pot plants or a green wall are a part of this, but so is a water feature / aquarium, artwork depicting nature scenes, and ensuring that your furniture is laid out so as not to impede visual access to nature through the window.

Two other important aspects of biophilic design are those 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.

Other ways of bringing nature into our spaces include:

  • Air movements, nature sounds and scents;
  • A combination of highly textured, diffused and natural (leather, stone, bronze, wood, etc) materials;
  • Using lighting to create pools of light, shadows and dappled light all of which can be changed throughout the day;
  • Architectural, furniture and furnishings detailing with forms and patterns suggestive in shape of a living organism;
  • A combination of complexity and order to create spaces that are engaging and information-rich – a balance between boring and overwhelming;
  • Adding a sense of mystery that entices people into our spaces.

As our world becomes ever more urbanised, the need for our designs to reconnect people to an experience of nature becomes ever more important.  For our health and well-being, biophilic design is not a luxury, it is a necessity.  If we want to create homes that are inspirational, restorative and healthy, this needs to be considered during the planning stages of building or renovating our homes, not as an added after thought once everything is complete.

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