The practice of incorporating nature and natural elements into the built environment — known as biophilic design — has been proven to measurably reduce stress among inhabitants and users

It isn’t just an extravagance to enjoy a sunny spot on the windowsill, a leafy plant in your office space or the trickle of a water fountain – it’s part of our evolutionary nature and must be observed as “an imperative strategy to improve human health, environmental resilience, and the bottom line.” This is according to The Economics of Biophilia – a fascinating new book by American design firm Terrapin Bright Green.

As the book points out, not all nature experiences are equal – some can terrify, others can depress. “If we accept that biophilic design is an important practice, we then must consider how to implement it. Fortunately, there are an emerging number of psychological, physiological and neurological studies on the human benefits of nature interactions that teach us which interactions with nature are awe-inspiring or restorative and which are fear-inducing or stressful. Understanding how people viscerally respond to interactions with nature and how such beneficial experiences can be supported in urban settings is essential for bringing the benefits of biophilia to bear on shaping a healthy and vibrant society”, says Terrapin.

Using their extensive research into a number of fields, including environmental psychology, endocrinology and neuroscience Terrapin were able to develop a new set of guidelines which they call 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design that, “articulates the relationships between nature, human biology and the design of the built environment so that we may experience the human benefits of biophilia in our design applications.” The 14 patterns fall into three broad categories. ‘Nature in the Space’ patterns which entail direct contact with nature or natural systems. ‘Natural Analogues’, patterns that relate to representations of nature and the ‘Nature of the Space’ patterns that are connected to the spatial conditions found in nature. The patterns range from expected, such as ‘visual connection with nature’, to unusual, such as ‘spatial properties that create a sense of risk/peril’. Some can be applied fairly intuitively, whereas others require more careful planning. For example, with the pattern ‘complexity and order’, designs with too much complexity can induce stress whereas designs with too little can bore, but a good balance between the two will stimulate and interest a viewer.

The book gives invaluable insight into the relationship between humans, the built environment and nature and will help any designer looking to understand the tricky balance between them.

“Biophilic design that (re)connects humans with nature does not just improve the habitability of spaces — it transforms them into rejuvenating, inspiring places that lead to increased health, productivity, healing and learning for all. And this translates to financial savings as well as a heightened connection to natural systems that in turn can lead to increased environmental awareness and stewardship. Biophilic design should be a core strategy for any designer, planner or business endeavoring to make people — and the planet — more healthy, happy and whole”, they say.

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