In 1984 sociobiolgist E O Wilson coined the term Biophilia in his book with the same name.
Biophilia, directly translated as emotional affiliation to life, is thought to have developed due to daily contact, during millennia of human evolution, with the natural environment. As Hunter-Gatherers and prior to that, dependence on nature for survival taught us what equalled shelter, refuge, danger and possibility to find food. These survival-related signals in form of natural stimuli developed into innate, instinctive and intuitive information to our specie. The emotional response these natural stimuli taught us how to feel about what was experienced. A sheltered place, like a cluster of trees for example, would imply refuge and would trigger the direct emotional response of safety and therefore relief of stress.
This relief of stress and effectively restoration of the body would result in a as sense of well being (Heerwagen 2001).
Studies in neuroscience have found that the human brain is also stimulated and nourished by natural patterns and features that trigger our senses, such as an exposed stone wall or wooden beams (Kellert 2004).
“Far from being able to liberate our modern selves from our historical development, we inherit our biological origin in the structure of our mind and body.” (Kellert 2008)
In order to design a space which makes us feel safe and prosperous there are numerous features and techniques of achieving this. Some of the most frequently suggested are as follows:
- Materials such as wood, clay, reed or stone as part of interiors give a sense of the outdoor environment and are stimulating in their pattern, surfaces and even smell (Kellert 2008).
- Designing so to provide natural light and a view of the sky has been shown as an important feature in several aspects such time, weather and object identification (Heerwagen 2003).
- Inclusion of patterns and symmetry that remind us of nature such as fractal patterns gives a sense of the complexity of natural structures (Heerwagen 2003, Kellert 2008)
- Incorporating a more meandering design to buildings, letting rooms lead into each other, allowing intriguing irregularities that stimulate the brain into creativity and enquiry.
- Direct representation of the natural environment such as plants, to be touched and smelt, but also indirect representation in form of décor, such as borders, wall paper and room dividers.
Not only do natural materials remind us of shelter and refuge from weather and predators in our ancestral landscape, causing stress relief, in designing buildings they also carry an environmental weight in form of their inherent low embodied carbon content.
References and Further Reading
HASE, B., HEERWAGEN, J. (2001) Building Biophilia: Connecting People to Nature in Building Design
HEERWGEN, J. H. (2003) Bio-Inspired Design: What Can We Learn from Nature? BioInspire No 1
KELLERT, S. (2004) Beyond LEED: From Low Environmental Impact to Restorative Environmental Design; Yale University – School of Forestry and Environment
KELLERT, S. (2005) Building for Life- Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection; Island Press
KELLERT, S et al (edited by) (2008) Neuroscience, the Natural Environment and Building Design, Chapter 5 of Biophilic Design; The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Building to Life pp 59-83; John Wiley, NewYork