TREND: Prescribing Nature
Bringing the Outside In – The Biophilic Design Revolution
Since more people live in cities, a walk in nature is harder to find, as most cities don’t have the benefit of greenways and natural parks. If spending time in actual nature is the new (and not so new) gold standard for wellness, creating the ideals of nature indoors is also booming.
Biophilia, from the Greek meaning “love of life and the living world,” came to the forefront in 1984, when E.O. Wilson, a biologist, theorist, naturalist and author, stated that loving nature is part of our DNA. “We love nature because we learned to love the things that helped us survive. We are hardwired to affiliate with the natural world, and just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it.”
An entire sector of the global wellness economy has taken these words to heart. And home. And community.
With people spending, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors, especially as part of their work, many businesses are working to change the nature of the indoor landscape.
According to Paul Scialla, CEO of Delos, a leading company in the creation of wellness real estate and communities, “Through evidence-based design, our buildings and communities can be leveraged to enhance our physical, emotional and cognitive health outcomes. This realization is part of why we’ve seen biophilic design become enormously popular within WELL Certified spaces over the past few years and as the demand for high performing buildings continues to grow. Naava, a Finnish health technology firm that specializes in the development of smart, active green walls, is one example of how companies are embracing this movement—as green walls not only work to purify the air we breathe but can also help reduce stress and foster a connection to the natural world indoors.”
“Green spaces” actually leave people feeling less stressed and more focused. “Humans are more generous, cooperative, and forward-thinking when surrounded by nature,” said Tim Beatley, an architecture professor at the University of Virginia and executive director of the Biophilic Cities Project, a group that works with city collaborators to implement biophilic design across the world.
L.L.Bean has been trying to actively bring people outdoors for more than 100 years, but this year, they created pop-up offices outdoors to show the importance of nature. Spending time outside, even at work, has tangible benefits, according to the retailer: Seventy-four percent of workers said it improves their mood, 71 percent said it lowers stress, and certain types of “indoor work,” including brainstorming, are perceived as especially doable outside.
According to a study by the University of Exeter, offices with plants “could increase productivity by 15 percent” as well as “lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve wellbeing.” This focus on “greening” our indoor spaces has an overall impact on how we feel about space, so we will likely be seeing more of this in shopping centers, schools, and hospitals in the future.
Debra Duneier, founder and president of EcoChi, a New York-based interior firm with “purposeful design” at its core, takes into account an emotional aspect of nature. “EcoChi brings nature indoors with patterns, textures, colors, furnishings, arrangements and art. The brain recognizes these elements and reacts in a positive way, almost as if you were outdoors experiencing it. The result is a feeling of happiness and wellbeing for you and your guests.”
To encourage clients to move their businesses toward a model that respects people, the planet and profits, Debra and her team created “EcoChi 1800 Seal”—a certification program that features 18 guidelines that have to be met for a supportive, sustainable and effective environment.
Being “green” has also never been hipper than it is today. Millennials have taken to gardening and planting in a way that has never been seen before. Greenery NYC, a botanic design company, has increased its clientele by 6,500 percent since it was founded in 2010. “Wellness is a priority for our millennial-aged residents,” said Dave Maundrell, executive vice president of new developments for Brooklyn and Queens at Citi Habitats. “They’re willing to pay more for access to a green space.”
Forecasting The Future
- Today, 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, but that will hit a staggering 68 percent by 2015—adding another 2.5 billion people to cities (UN). Nature deprivation will hit epidemic levels and will drive an even bigger surge in more biophilic design—in apartments, workplaces, schools, hospitals, etc.
- With 14 principles of biophilic design identified, the future will be more than just “a lot of plants”—tackling multisensory aspects such as dynamic lighting, thermal/airflow variability, water presence, nonrhythmic sensory stimuli, etc.
- The future challenge: making sure biophilic design isn’t just something for pricey wellness real estate developments or the billion-dollar headquarters of Silicon Valley tech elites.