First popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, Biophilic design has grown to become one of modern architecture’s hottest trends. Focused on creating sustainable relationships between humans and natural elements, Biophilic design reaches beyond artificial man-made structures.
Architect Dwayne MacEwen, Principal of DMAC Architecture, best describes the emerging trend when comparing architecture to music:
“The space between the notes is where the magic is; otherwise, it’s just noise. We need that space between the notes in our everyday lives, and I think landscape elements create that.”
All around the world, architects are using Biophilic design to create, renovate and transform buildings into unique spaces and nurturing habitats. Asia in particular is stepping forward as a leader in Biophilic architecture, in a bid to address its congested cities, swelling population, global competitors, and large workforce. The below 5 biophilic buildings are some of the best examples of Biophilic design in Asia:
1. Pasona Group Offices, Japan
Designed by Kono Designs, this urban office in Tokyo, Japan has its own indoor farm. Completed in 2010, Pasona Group encourages its employees to cultivate and grow their own food. The agro-based philosophy uses both hydroponic and soil-based farming. When walking through the workspace, it is common to see personalized agricultural projects by employees. Some examples include bean sprouts growing under tables, passion fruit trees in conference rooms, and lemon trees in common areas.
2. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore
Touted as the most Biophilic hospital in Asia, the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore is a pioneer in healthcare infrastructure. The heart of this institution’s holistic environment is the green court. Imitating a lush forest, the green court includes water bodies with aquatic animals, brightly colored plants, as well as resident birds and butterflies. The blue and green spaces expand to the upper levels of the hospital as well as the basement. In fact, the total surface area dedicated to greenery is four times the actual land the hospital building sits on.
3. Panyaden School, Thailand
Drawing on its Buddhist founding principles, the Panyaden School in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand, is constructed entirely from earth and bamboo. The building is designed in the shape of a lotus, a flower which is regarded both as a symbol of Thailand and Buddhism. The most outstanding feature of this school is the sports hall. Covering an area of 782 square meters, the hall can accommodate up to 300 students, with bamboo staircases leading to viewing balconies for the spectators. It hosts sports like basketball, badminton and volleyball, as well as conducts events throughout the year. The bamboo trusses use natural ventilation and insulation to keep the sports hall consistently cool. In addition, they can withstand storms, high-speed winds, and earthquakes.
4. Keputih Boarding House, Indonesia
Located in Surabaya, the Keputih Boarding House was a finalist in the World Architecture Festival 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The boarding house is a world apart from the cramped conditions of its peers. While it is common to employ air-conditioning to escape Indonesia’s heat, the boarding house uses perforated panels for walls as well as spatial openings. The openings and panels allow natural lighting and air to circulate the main spaces, giving a sense that the house is “breathing”. Residents interact in the several communal places, the walls of which are decorated with stunning typographical prints. In addition, residents and visitors are provided with a parking space for their bicycles to stimulate both eco-consciousness and exercise.
5. An’garden Café, Vietnam
Located in Hanoi’s Hà Đông district on a former industrial site, the An’garden Café exudes vibrancy and oxygen throughout its three-story space. The eatery’s steel foundation and brick interiors incorporate a giant glass facade that floods the entire space with light. The timber roof is lined with planters with vines flowing out of them. Visitors can watch colorful koi fish swimming in a pond, or relax under the shady trees. The architectural firm Le House designed this cafe in the image of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And it doesn’t fail to impress.
The importance of Biophilia in urban spaces is growing. The Biophilic Design Movement is in the process of transitioning from a hot architectural trend to an absolute structural component. As stated by Timothy Beatley, author of Biophilic Cities,
“Nature is not optional; it’s absolutely essential. It’s something that should be part of every day, every hour, if not every minute of people’s lives, not something you just get when you’re on vacation.”
Statistics show that there are significant advantages to incorporating Biophilic materials when designing infrastructure.
- In corporate sectors, biophilic projects led to an 8 percent rise in productivity, as well as a 13 percent increase in employee well-being.
- In schools, the rate of learning in students rose by 20 to 25 percent.
- Customers are willing to pay 8 to 12 percent more on goods and services if retail stores introduced Biophilic elements such as plants.
- In the hospitality sector, guests prefer rooms with natural views and are willing to pay 23 percent more for it.
- In the field of medicine, the recovery period for patients after an operation decreased by 8.5 percent, while the requests for pain medication dropped by 22 percent.
In order to transition your workplace into a nurturing and productive environment, you have to understand the basic features of the Biophilic design. While not all businesses can afford expensive makeovers and chic architectural projects, there are a number of simple ways in which Biophilic design can be implemented.
1. Views of Nature
When offered a choice, passengers prefer to seat at a window seat on a plane. Naturally, having a desk near a window allows employees to look outside. Workers tend to get less anxious and stressed when they have visual access to natural flora. Whether it is open skies or the falling leaves of autumn, nature has a calming effect on employees.
Example: Million Trees NYC completed planting 1 million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs. The concept of an urban forest was created to provide both ecological and health benefits to the inhabitants of the city. Everyone, from commuters to employees, can now look out and inhale a fresh breath of oxygen.
2. Pictures of Nature
Not everyone is fortunate to work in an environment which has access to natural greenery. In this case, setting up even nonliving depictions of nature can have a positive effect on employees. Stunning artwork comprising of variegated landforms, wildlife, water bodies and colorful flora not only brightens up the office decor but is also a proven mood-enhancer. After all, who doesn’t love a canvas print of a sunrise?
Example: One of the biggest advocates of marine conservation, artist Robert Wyland has transformed concrete facades into large-scale murals of dolphins and whales. He has worked on the sides of skyscrapers, sports stadiums, and others in 18 countries. Some of his famous works include Whaling Walls in Oahu and Hands Across the Oceans in Beijing.
3. Corporate Gardening
A simple way of incorporating Biophilic design is to bring plants into the workspace. Displaying succulents or flowering plants can brighten up any corner of the office. If your building has an open terrace or patio, consider planting some greenery. Gardening is known to be a great form of relaxation and helps alleviate work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.
Example: The Boston Medical Center (BMC) has set up a farm on its 7,000 square foot rooftop. During the growing season, the farm yields up to 15,000 pounds of produce which is used to stock the BMC’s food pantry. Not only does the rooftop farm help feed the patients, but it has been a source of enthusiasm for BMC employees who regularly volunteer for gardening hours.
4. Natural Light
Sunlight has many proven health benefits. It is a natural source of vitamin D. In addition, sunlight helps maintain levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones which are key for mood and sleep regulation. Employees who work solely under interior lighting tend to be less productive, as well as fall sick more often than their peers who have access to natural light. Propping up a window or installing skylights can go a long way in keeping your employees healthy.
Example: The Crozer-Chester Medical Center found an innovative way to bring in natural light into its interiors. The building features a dome skylight that measures 40 feet in diameter. Coated in silver color with a 70 percent PVDF mica coating, the skylight not only fills the place with sunlight but also creates an illusion of expansive space.
Artists, designers and environmental visionaries have all been known to use plants as functional, beautiful pieces of art. As more people become aware of biophilia, the beneficial relationship between humans and plants, there’s an increasing awareness of and appreciation for these amazing installations. Here are five fascinating “living art” destinations across America and Canada.
University of New England’s “Breathing Wall”
At the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, students enjoy walking by and gazing upon a magnificent living wall that measures over 400 square feet and contains more than 960 plants. This thriving living art not only helps to purify the air but also provides a calming, stress-reducing focal point. Nicknamed the “Breathing Wall”, the installation features five different varieties of tropical shrubs and is enjoyed by teachers, professors and visitors alike.
Chicago’s Rooftop Wheat Prairie
Rooftop gardens usually feature small trees, flowers, or even vegetables. But one Chicago architecture and urban design firm took rooftop gardening to a new level: Studio Gang worked with a team of local designers to install and maintain an entire wheat field on their rooftop. The massive project, covering almost 5,000 square feet, featured winter wheat, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. This mini-prairie became a thriving ecosystem that successfully produced a staple crop: students and volunteers harvested more than 60 pounds of wheat, and the grain was taken to a local mill where it was ground into high-grade pastry flour. This rooftop green space is not just functional, but beautiful, too. Known as “The Treehouse”, the rooftop is also one of Chicago’s most popular event spaces.
Eco-sculptures of Burnaby
Every summer in British Columbia, residents of Burnaby are treated to the sight of ‘eco-sculptures‘, a living art fusion composed of metal framework, soil, and plants. The sculptures are placed around the city in public parks and other community areas, and they represent animals from the local area and around the world. Horses prance at Deer Lake Park and bears lumber at the base of Burnaby Mountain. Locals love their signature sculptures, and they play an active role in building them. Horticulturists and designers create the metal structures that form the basis for each sculpture, and then stuff them with soil and cover them with landscape fabric. Then, everyone pitches in to insert various plants according to the artist’s directions. The result is a beautifully growing piece of living art. The
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
This 158-acre botanical garden located in Madison, Wisconsin, features themed indoor and outdoor gardens, a tropical conservatory, sculpture gardens… and an incredibly large and diverse collection of carnivorous plants! The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House features the ever-popular Venus Flytraps, along with pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and other meat-eating plants from around the world. While eating lunch or sipping coffee, visitors can also enjoy a living plant wall in the garden cafe. The vertical structure was recently installed in 2017 and continues to delight guests today.
A Giant Living Bouquet in New York City
Imagine driving the bustling streets of New York, and then coming face to face with a 40-foot long, eight-foot-tall giant flowering bouquet! That’s exactly what New Yorkers saw this spring thanks to the “Broadway Bouquet” installation created by a local landscape design firm. Instead of the ubiquitous cut flowers that make up a typical bouquet, this living bouquet was composed of small trees and flowering shrubs. The temporary bouquet was created as part of the NYC/DOT Car Free Earth Day event on April 21 and illustrated the boundless possibilities of living space that would normally be taken up by a stream of traffic and cars.
These magnificent gardens, living art installations, and thriving sculptures are just a few examples of biophilia at work. Whether you live nearby or are just passing through, make sure to visit and experience these wonders for yourself.