Wellness: the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

 This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time . . .  Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans.
from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, edited by Douglas Adams

The first day of the first Wellness and Biophilia Symposium at BRE, Watford demonstrated a simple truth; if we have to live in this crazy world, we really ought to try to make the best fist of it that we can.

Humankind’s connection with Nature is a perpetual one – our relationship with the trees is still greater than the one we have with our smart phones. Once you start to look for the connections, you’ll find them all around us. Opening up this laptop, the first image that I’m presented with is some random image of Nature – a mountainous landscape; rolling hills and meadows; timeless coastlines.

Biophilic design has this simple focus, to make our living and working environments as positive as possible by ensuring that connections with Nature are designed into the Built Environment.

We all know the business case by now. The 1:9:90 rule of business costs tell us that 1% of company costs goes on its energy consumption; 9% goes on the cost of the physical buildings that we work in; a whopping 90% relates to the people who make the company successful. The choice is yours; treat your staff like a modern day Gradgrind and wonder why your staff turnover is through the roof, or get behind the programme, understand what makes your staff tick and deliver a positive working environment for them. You know it makes (financial) sense.

Living Wall by Scotscape

The philosophical spine for Biophilic Design isn’t so well known. I make no excuse for quoting from the source work that explains what we need to do to engage with biophilic principles.
Terrapin Bright Green (was founded in 2006 by distinguished environmental strategist Bill Browning and architects Rick Cook and Bob Fox of the prestigious firm COOKFOX Architects. Chris Garvin, an accomplished green architect, soon joined the firm. Together, this alliance of expertise established Terrapin as a trusted consultant to major corporations and developers, governments and other organizations seeking to answer the challenges of high-performance design in the 21st century.’

Terrapin Bright Green established the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.

Nature in the Space encompasses seven biophilic design patterns:

  1. Visual Connection with Nature. A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.
  2. Non-Visual Connection with Nature. Auditory, haptic (relating to sense of touch), olfactory, or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
  3. Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. Stochastic (randomly determined) and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
  4. Thermal & Airflow Variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.
  5. Presence of Water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.
  6. Dynamic & Diffuse Light. Leverages varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.
  7. Connection with Natural Systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.

Natural Analogues addresses organic, non-living and indirect evocations of nature, encompassing three patterns of biophilic design:

  • Biomorphic Forms & Patterns. Symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.
  • Material Connection with Nature. Materials and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology and create a distinct sense of place.
  • Complexity & Order. Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.

Nature of the Space encompasses four biophilic design patterns:

  1. Prospect. An unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning.
  2. Refuge. A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.
  3. Mystery. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment.
  4. Risk/Peril. An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable safeguard.

And why should the lighting industry concern itself with this? Simply because this is where ‘human centric design’ naturally leads. And it is a design-led process. There is nothing here that comes straight out of a box labelled ‘HCL’, and that’s what makes it so exciting. To be successful, biophilic design is an evidence-led process, understanding what the client is looking for and where those ambitions might lead. It’s a designer’s playground and one that we should embrace wholeheartedly.

Biophilic lighting design?

It is hoped that the BRE Wellness and Biophilia Symposium becomes an annual event, with each year demonstrating now biophilic design is making inroads into architectural and space-planning design. Because we’re worth it.


About JB

John Bullock is the editor of The Light Review

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