Biophilic design, not surprisingly, is defined as the extension of biophilia mixed with design that incorporates natural materials, light, vegetation, views of nature, and other experiences of the natural world into a constructed environment.
The power of nature to promote physical and emotional contentment in humans has been a longtime source of inspiration for designers and architects. Since today’s “natural habitat” is largely the built environment, it’s good to have a better understanding of where we spend most of our time.
The phrase “biophilic design” seeks to satisfy our innate need as biological organisms to be closer to nature.
Not to be confused with experiential design, which is the rise of temporary pop-up spaces and selfie-museums, whose trend equates to a higher waste volume (as the use of lower quality materials mixed with speedy production times are only used to look good for the picture).
I believe in working with quality over quantity in material selections that many experiential marketing firms may not be as focused on. In more traditional and permanent brick-and-mortar spaces, there are so many opportunities to further enhance the use of well-considered design and holistic materials.
One example of spatial design that proves fortuitous for mindful-elements are the wellness, holistic, and healing industries, including yoga and meditation studios, mindful skincare, and health-focused gathering places. With these modalities we can be more intentional with materials and design for the senses, and more aware of what those materials have to do with our mental and emotional states.
Feng shui is a popular eastern approach that focuses to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. But let’s take things a step further beyond decorative and furniture placement and work towards eco-friendly material solutions by activating options that create an environment that harmonizes (after all, there are so many options beyond paint on drywall).
Himalayan pink salt, for instance, is a natural material valued for its concentration of trace elements. It is commonly seen in lamp form, but these glowing, pink-hued objects come in slabs as well. These slabs, or bricks of salt, can be used for entire wall treatments or a backsplash, and when lit from behind can offer a warm glow that has been shown to provide relief from seasonal affective disorder, and improve both mood and sleep.
Which brings us to acoustics (which are typically an afterthought, albeit a crucial one). The effects of noise pollution can be rattling, disruptive, and can cause lack of concentration. Sound bounces off hard surfaces, yet with the use of acoustic rolls, panels, and baffles, you can turn that noise into a more artful design approach. A major supplier of these options is Zintra, a trusted source within the design industry. Their panels are up to 100% post-consumer recycled content. And they even have a faux-concrete panel for that raw/industrial look without the cold echo-like cave experience.
My favorite biophilic design tip? When balancing tactile and hard surfaces, plants are always a great way to soften and naturally create a calming space that feels alive.
An innovative use for plants in a modern (and vertical) way is greenscreen — their studio fabricates a metal wire trellis system that vines can grow on. These systems can be used as an exterior façade treatment to also shade and cool the building, or as internal walls and diving systems to clean the air and create a vertical calming point.
Incorporating plants directly into the materials is something that the experts at 3form have perfected. Through the synergy between craft and nature, they fuse plants and other organic elements into ecoresin (pressed glass) and other alternative hard surface treatments which offer a perfect solution for spaces with little or no natural light. With ambient lighting, these translucent materials can also produce a calming and harmonious effect on our mood. Certain colors evoke certain emotions and can be shown to trigger energy and more productivity. I always liked the quote by famed Interior Designer Jonathan Adler, “Orange is the Prozac of the colors.”
All of these seemingly subtle elements have a more profound, long-term effect on our psyche, where a feeling or emotion can be tricky to measure. It’s an investment of sorts.
In the long run, how the built environment makes us feel holds true with return clients, improved employee retention, and durability. Now, more than ever before, our awareness for authenticity and transparency has become a part of how and where we choose to spend our time. Where we live, work, and play should be a place that reflects the qualities that draw us in. It is important to realize that through design we adopt a new consciousness towards nature and recognize how much our wellbeing continues to rely on our surroundings — beyond just being aesthetically pleasing.
Melanie Ryan is a Design/Marketing Consultant, Visual Contributor and Co-Founder of design studio OPEN for Humans. Based in Downtown LA, Melanie specializes in products and services for the architectural and design community with a focus on sustainability and environmental advocacy. She aims to bring together the like-minded, while identifying opportunities for synergy.