Biophilia: Inviting the outdoors, indoors

Biophilia love for the natural environment

For years, interior design was seen as being purely about aesthetics. Sought after buildings tended to appear sleek on the outside, but little consideration was given to how those that inhabited the space interacted with it. As a result while these buildings theoretically maximised space and created productive environments, for the most part they could be a likened to prison cells: stark in colour, small windows, inadequate air flow and lack of access to the natural environment.

As time has passed, design thinking in this space has shifted. Research has emerged and proven that mental and physical health is significantly affected by the spaces in which you spend your time. This reckoning, along with the fact that many, particularly those in the city, are not only working in tall buildings, but also living in them, has a sparked a counter movement.

This movement is one that understands human health is influenced by the buildings in which we live and work, and seeks to maximise our exposure to natural elements while in these buildings – whether that be through exposure to sunlight, use of natural materials, access to plants and greenery or open plan offices in which we are free to roam. This desire to bring features of the outdoors into the indoors and built environment, is widely referred to as biophilic interior design.

The term biophilic, literally means love of the environment. It comes from the word biophilia, which was coined by E.O Wilson to describe ‘the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Wilson’s ideas which are based in philosophy reiterate what has been discovered through scientific research – that humans are better suited to and happier in natural environments, rather than the sterile surroundings that we have become accustomed to.

So what are the benefits of living in these ‘alive’ environments?

There are numerous benefits for occupants working or living in biophilic environments rather than lifeless, stark offices. This is a key concern for the International WELL Building Institute (WELL), who are focused on creating and transforming buildings with the primary aim being to help occupants thrive. WELL has conducted a number of studies into the benefits of a biophilic environment, and they have found that these environments are directly linked to a reduction in physical and mental health concerns of occupants ranging from a reduction in job stress, health complaints and sick days. On top of this biophilic environments were also found to enhance mood and creativity. Access to nature is such an important aspect of buildings that it is now a core component of WELL’s ‘mind’ rating.

Wondering what changes you can make to your space?

Fundamental to biophilia is increasing the amount of living things you surround yourself with, so look to populate your space with plenty of lush green plants, but don’t limit yourself you could even get a few colourful fish to enhance a space. Beyond that, try to boost the natural colours that you surround yourself with, look to neutral tones that you would expect to see in the wilderness, think browns and creams, nothing too bright! In the same vein look to incorporate natural materials into your space, think timber and stone.

Keep in mind that the goal of this exercise isn’t to have a uniform, sterile environment, it is to mimic the natural imperfections of the environment. So try to allow for some imperfections and eccentricity when creating your ideal space.

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