Biophilia is human nature’s innate desire to connect with nature even when indoors.
Philosopher Erich Fromm created the term biophilia in 1964, and conservationist Edward O. Wilson popularized it in the 1980s. Biophilia in design aims to reduce stress, improve our well-being and hasten healing.
The centuries old traditional system of Indian architecture also revolves around the concept of ‘Panchbhoota,’, the five elements of nature namely : Akash (Space), Vayu (Wind), Agni (Fire), Jal (Water) and Prithvi (Earth). The principles recommend building spaces to harness maximum benefit of natural elements. Orientation of spaces is decided by time and type of the activity, which in turn boosts cognitive function of the inhabitants. Conventionally, spaces in Indian buildings are wrapped around a courtyard, which connects indoors with outdoors through natural light and ventilation.
” Whether a brief walk down a corridor or an hours-long radiation appointment, our sensory interactions with indoor spaces affect our emotions, mood and as research has shown, our physical health
Yogesh Jog, Sr. Vice President, CannonDesign
Healthcare systems in India can improve the environment for patients and providers alike by incorporating biophilia through vernacular architecture into its physical spaces. While patients and their families understandably experience a great deal of stress in healthcare spaces, doctors, nurses, and support staff also spend a great deal of time in stressful and draining roles where breaks are few and far between. This is where biophilic design can make a difference.
Routine connections with nature can provide opportunities for mental health reprieve and rejuvenation, whether it’s an employee lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows or a courtyard where patients can enjoy fresh air before or after an appointment. Interactions with nature can also trigger physical responses, such as muscle relaxation, lower blood pressure and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Integration of natural elements are another biophilia component—we can use references to nature through materials and form to create sheltered spaces. Many of these were historical mechanisms for survival and today we don’t even realize why we seek a place to sit that is sheltered with a low ceiling or with our backs to a wall.
The University of Kansas Health System, Strawberry Hill Behavioral Health Hospital, Kansas
Creating Healing Environments
Thoughtful biophilic design takes into consideration not only who is interacting with a space, but how we want those individuals to feel after they go through the space. Do we want clinicians and nurses to be able to unwind and decompress? Do we want children in the hospital for complicated conditions and procedures to have moments of distraction and joy? Do we want areas of respite and privacy for those both giving and receiving difficult health updates?
Our interior design practice draws inspiration from the following patterns of biophilic design:
- INFUSING NATURE INTO AN ENVIRONMENT: A direct connection with nature is the most ideal. Whether that is floor-to ceiling windows, plant life or an aquarium or a fountain, this type of direct visualization can have the most impact. Other indirect connections with nature can include audio of flowing water or animal life, using air flow to mimic a breeze.
- REFLECTING NATURE IN MATERIALS: Patterns naturally found in the outdoors—the spiral of a seashell or the ripples of a wave—can be mimicked with materials used indoors. This can be done with woodwork, fabric choices, furniture details, color palettes and more. These patterns can also be incorporated more intricately with a design, such as with a spiral staircase or diffuse lighting.
- IMPRESSIONS FROM THE ENVIRONMENT: Emotions evoked from a space are important and directly effect on physical and mental health. Open spaces and use of transparent materials can create a feeling of safety and options of where a person can go, as opposed to feeling trapped or secluded. Limiting visual barriers, using open floor plans and extensive views to the outdoors can improve impressions of the space.
Texas Children’s Hospital, The Woodland Campus, Texas
Landscape-Centric Strategy for Cancer Center
Tata Medical Center
Location: Kolkata, India
Size: 563,877 sf
Cannon Design Services : Design Consultant
Phase 1- Shell and Core, Interior
Phase 2 – Shell and Core
• Carambiah & George
• Singal & Associates
” Through this facility, we succeed in the goal of making every cancer patient feel cared for…they have a sense of belonging”
Rajendra A. Badwe, Director, Tata Memorial Hospital
Users of the campus are encouraged to occupy the landscape as it spirals up and around the building, offering social spaces. An open terrace off the pediatric ward is used by staff members as a nearby connection with nature, as well as a space for kids to be in a non-medical environment.
The outdoor spaces and courtyards are frequented by patients, visitors, doctors, and staff looking for a moment of respite. Many family members come to assist with care, so waiting rooms are larger and connected visually to outdoors to help them de-stress.
Biophilic designs to improve patient health
Northwest Community Hospital
Location: Arlington Heights, Illinois
Size: 225,000 sf
Services: Architecture, Interior
Design, Lighting Design, MEP
Engineering, Structural Engineering
While this hospital is nestled in the Chicago suburbs, every inpatient floor has a balcony accessible to both family members and staff, as well as interior seating alcoves with views to the outdoors. The interior color palette has a theme related to the natural world on each floor, and wood elements are also heavily incorporated throughout the hospital.
Nature’s subtle changes are translated into interior design through:
- Form: Dropped soffits and screens, reduced scale
- Texture: Variety of textures, smooth vs. rough
- Brightness: Range of light levels
- Diversity: Depth of diversity in color, pattern, and form
The design creates a healthcare environment that prioritizes the importance of nature and community to the healing process. Our innate need for nature and shelter is addressed by providing a sense of enclosure as well as a connection to the broader environment. Sheltered gathering places and low ceilings in key places provide a safe and comforting environment to heal.