Biophilic elements have numerous positive health benefits for those who use and inhabit a space, as human connection to nature is inherent. The real, tangible impacts of exposure to natural, biophilic elements range from improved mood and quality of sleep, to increased mental abilities and energy levels, among other benefits.
Knowing the myriad of health benefits that being surrounded by nature provides, it’s easy to picture the positive impact of incorporating biophilia into healthcare spaces for both patients and providers. For medical spaces especially, the subtle sense of calmness caused by biophilic design means that check-ups and procedures, that may ordinarily be a source of stress or anxiety to some, are much easier for those patients to handle. From this perspective, using an evidence-based approach to wholistic care means the inclusion of natural, biophilic elements in project designs.
Looking at the intricacies of biophilia, we aim to dive deeper into how the Ankrom Moisan healthcare team utilizes biophilic design to support patients, providers, and visitors in healing spaces.
Healthcare Project Examples
Some examples of how biophilic designs are integrated into healthcare spaces to improve and enhance the patient experience can be seen below, in projects like CCC Blackburn, the Swedish Medical Center Ambulatory Infusion Clinic, and the Harborview Medical Center Pediatric Burn Unit.
CCC Blackburn‘s use of color, texture, and space establishes a dynamic balance of tension and openness within its walls, leading to a combination of both open space and boundaries that emulates the harmony of woodland clearings and fallen trees in the wild. The building was pulled apart to allow natural light into the long hallways and corridors, expelling darkness. Wide, operable windows provide access to sunlight, fresh air, and open space at every level. Views of plants, animals, and insects affirm to patients that they are connected to the outdoors, preventing the feeling of being isolated or stuck in a sterile, empty environment that can be so common in medical spaces.
Similarly, the Swedish Medical Center Ambulatory Infusion Clinic utilizes natural materials, spacial variability, direct views to exterior natural elements, and the intentional use of both indoor and natural light to emphasize the subtle feelings of attraction and appreciation for beauty that results from biophilic design. These features also provide patients with a comforting atmosphere while undergoing treatment, so that even the building’s design around the patient is there to ease pain and reduce discomfort.
The Harborview Medical Center Pediatric Burn Unit also includes biophilic elements designed to help put patients at ease. Wall graphics that reference the outdoors bring color, curiosity, and excitement to the room while simultaneously avoiding placelessness by giving the space its own unique look, feel, and identity. Wood-look and other organic aesthetics combine with natural and artificial light to engage patients, ensuring that they are stimulated while waiting for and receiving care.
Projects that embrace biophilia and include natural features in their design have the additional potential to heal the Earth while healing individuals. This happens foremost through the restoration of natural spaces in and outside of project sites. By including natural features and views, projects often facilitate and encourage the growth of plant life, improving air quality, offsetting a site’s carbon footprint, and contributing to prosperity of the local ecosystem. This is commonly seen with the introduction of native plants and other species that attract pollinators, allowing them to reproduce and continue the circle of life.
We also know that biophilic design has benefits that go beyond pleasant visuals and feeling connected to one’s surroundings. Findings have shown that biophilia boosts immune health, supports mental and emotional health, and can even aid physical recover. Knowing this, designing healthcare spaces to include biophilic connections is a no-brainer.
Resources to Learn More
This only scratches the surface of the conversation around what biophilia is, its benefits, how it can be integrated into project designs, and why it is important. There are lots of materials out there to continue to learn more about this topic.
The resources used to develop the content shared in this blog include The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, Nature Inside by Bill Browning and Catherine O. Ryan, and “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design” by New York environmental consulting firm Terrapin Bright Green.
By Christie Thorpe, Interior Designer, and Jack Cochran, Marketing Coordinator.
What You Need to Know About Biophilic Design
Biophilia is the concept that there is an innate connection between humans and nature. Our love of nature and tendency to crave connections with the natural world is a deeply engrained and intuitive aspect of both human psychology and physiology. It’s part of our DNA.
Building off that concept, biophilic design is the intentional use of design elements that emulate sensations, features, and phenomena found in nature with the goal of elevating the built environment for the benefit of its end users.
Simply put, biophilic design is good design. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate; it just has to be intentional. Creating connections to the outdoors in the built environment can significantly impact users’ mental and physical well-being.
How Biophilia is Integrated into Projects
There are many ways to integrate biophilic elements into a project’s design. Some of the most common methods of doing this have been categorized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as being either Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, or the Nature of the Space.
1. Nature in the Space
Biophilic design that places emphasis on bringing elements of the outdoors into interior spaces would be classified as ‘Nature in the Space.’ These outdoor-elements-brought-inside can be anything from plants, animals, and water features, to specific scents, sensations (like the feeling of a breeze), shade and lighting effects, or other environmental components found in the natural world. They are organic features that are literally brought inside. An example of this could be a project using natural materials like exposed mass timber and green walls covered with living plants to mimic the sensation of being in a wooded forest.
2. Natural Analogues
‘Natural Analogues’ in biophilic design are human-made, synthetic patterns, shapes, colors, and other details that reference, represent, or mimic natural materials, markings, and objects without utilizing or incorporating those actual materials, markings, or objects. An example of a natural analogue might be the use of spiral patterns in a painted wall mural to link a project’s design to seashells and the coast, the inclusion of animal print motifs in fabric and material choices, or even the use of blue rugs and carpeting to link a site to a nearby river or other body of water. Subtle finishes, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) touches can also be a biophilic natural analogue, like the use of shelves that reference the pattern and shape of a honeycomb. Natural analogues are most often design and material choices that pay homage to recognizable environmental elements.
3. Nature of the Space
A focus on the ‘Nature of the Space’ on the other hand, pays more attention to a location’s construction, layout, and scale than its FF&E and other accessories or interior design. It utilizes spatial differences, the geography of a space, and other elements of a project’s configuration to imitate expansive views, sensory input, or even feelings of safety and danger that are found in the wild. This may manifest as an open stairwell that embraces rough, asymmetrical walls to subtly mirror the textures of a canyon, or as the inclusion of an atrium to give end-users a perspective that parallels the wide-open views seen from a mountain peak. ‘Nature of the Space’ can also be seen in the use of soft lighting and smaller scale spaces to simulate the felt safety and coziness of a cave. It is the utilization of a project’s site itself to replicate experiences and sensations found in the world of nature.
By emulating natural features and bringing the outdoors in, architects and interior designers integrate the benefits of exposure to the natural world into built spaces, creating a unique shared experience for a site’s users.
A list of biophilic design elements and attributes.
When combined with intentionality and thoughtful design, these elements can transform ordinary spaces into spaces that support human health and wellness.
The Power of Biophilia
Aside from elevating design, the inclusion of biophilic elements in a project can have numerous positive health benefits for those who use and inhabit that space. Biophilia’s impact on health and wellness may not be something that we are conscious of, but it is a difference that we feel. Humans understand biophilia intuitively.
The amount of time humans spend interacting with nature – as well as the amount of time they are disconnected from the natural world – has real, tangible impacts on an individual’s health. In today’s industrial, technologically dominated world, it’s especially important to seek out connections with nature, since many built spaces often forgo biophilic features and the benefits that come with them.
The negative health impacts of not having enough connection to nature are:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Poor sleep stemming from an unstable circadian rhythm
- A weakened immune system
- Poor focus
- Weak memory
- Attention issues like ADHD
- Decreased emotional regulation
The positive benefits of exposure to nature, on the other hand, include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Muscle relaxation
- Feelings of safety
- Restful sleep and a stable circadian rhythm
- A strong immune system
- Increased focus
- Greater memory and learning abilities
- Higher energy levels
- Increased emotional regulation
Knowing the range of benefits that biophilia has the potential to provide, architects and interior designers have the opportunity to purposefully design spaces with the health and wellbeing of its end-users in mind, positively influencing the experience of a location as well as the feelings of the people occupying it.
Some of Ankrom Moisan’s expert design teams have already done this, including biophilic elements in the shared spaces of project to elevate the end-user’s experience of those environments. In a follow up blog post, we will take a deeper look at how biophilia shows up in three distinct Ankrom Moisan healthcare projects, discussing how the inclusion of biophilia can be leveraged to support an evidence-based approach to holistic, whole-person care.
By Christie Thorpe, Associate, Interior Designer, and Jack Cochran, Marketing Coordinator