The rustling of the leaves in a breeze. The babbling of a creek. The warmth of the sunshine on your face. Without even thinking you draw a deep breath and release. As humans we are drawn to nature. This is Biophilia – “the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living things”. Wikipedia defines Biophiliac Design as- “increasing occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature and space and place conditions”.
Let’s start with some facts- studies have found that unlike their ancestors, today’s inside generation spends up to 90% of their time indoors. Many get less than 15 minutes a day outside in natural light. It takes a minimum of 30 minutes of light to help regulate your circadian rhythm. The population is being diagnosed with SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder (not enough sunlight) and it is increasing
exponentially every year.
One of the biggest benefits of spending time outdoors and in natural light is that it helps regulate better sleep patterns. Poor sleep patterns are linked to health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attack. Other problems can include obesity, reduced immune function, lack of productivity and of course irritability.
In 2015 the modular flooring company Interface conducted a study and found that employees that work in an environment enriched with biophiliac elements had a 15% increased productivity over those who did not. The study also showed that 90% of workers in offices with biophiliac design said their overall wellbeing improved. Hotels and Spas use water features and natural sounds to reduce stress, invite relaxation and promote wellness.
On a residential level we can incorporate the same principles. Work, family and school obligations make it difficult to make time outdoors a priority, so we need to consider the impact our home is having on us. Careful consideration to a home’s orientation, as well as size and placement of windows can make a dramatic impact. One of my favorite products to add during a remodel is a Sun Tunnel by Velux. This allows natural light into spaces that would otherwise be unable to access it. Besides increased daylighting, things such as natural shapes and forms and natural materials like wood and stone should be considered.
Plants play a crucial role in connecting us to the outdoors. Air quality is another factor that impacts our daily health. One of the unintended side effects of today’s requirements for energy efficiency is lack of air flow. Indoor air contains up to five times more pollutants. Furnishings and building materials often contribute to this. Air filtration systems a
nd ventilation can be added to combat this but a natural more cost-effective alternative to this is house plants. They are natural air scrubbers removing harmful toxins and releasing oxygen. The also bring the outdoors in. Careful thought to landscape plantings can also enhance a calming window view, as if framing a beautiful natural artwork.
Biophilia is not a new phenomenon. In the tuberculous outbreak of the 1920’s sleeping porches were found to reduce illness and improve the health of those recovering. Nature has been part of the healing process for centuries. As we recover and rethink our lifestyles post pandemic it is important that we put our wellbeing first. Spending time outdoors and inviting it in when life doesn’t let us get out will support cognitive function and improve our physical and psychological health.