Biophilic Design

Biophilic Hub

The State of Biophilic Design


12 Feb , 2018  

The concept of biophilic design has been in existence for some time now. However, the past few years have seen its popularity surge, most likely due to an increase in awareness of employee wellness and wellbeing in the corporate space. Design consultants are insisting it should be an integral part of their design strategy, but are clients willing to listen?

This doesn’t apply to design firms alone as manufacturers are also turning their attention to this inherent human connection with nature. We spent some time with Matt Hall (Regional Sales Director of Interface Middle East) and Diane Thorsen (Design Principal of Perkins+Will Dubai) to delve deeper into the topic of biophilic design and the industry’s current perception of it.

Biophilic Design

What's the current industry perspective on biophilic design?

Matt: We’ve found our clients, consultants and end users are very receptive to the concept of biophilia and biophilic design. And with this growing swell of global popularity, we are starting to see the emergence of design firms who want to implement it. There is plenty of research and evidence to support the effectiveness of biophilic design, but we see that because it’s new and not a regionally tried and tested concept like a lot of the other popular trends. This means that the road to full adoption may be a long one.

What we find interesting is that when we begin a conversation about biophilia, people naturally think ‘greenery and plants’! But it’s not limited to that only – it’s so much more really. It’s also about how we evoke a feeling of nature in buildings through artificial elements, and most importantly, how we improve human interaction with it to create spaces that are energizing, restorative and recuperative. This really goes to show how much more the industry has to learn about this new form of design.

Diane: I think the market has a long way to go in terms of understanding what biophilic design really is. As a designer, I believe it’s my responsibility to start educating clients about the benefits of biophilic design. The industry and the region, in general, is still new to this concept. It’s important for clients and developers to understand what biophilia can do for the people inhabiting a particular space, and the short and long-term benefits. It all ties back to wellness. There are several projects we’re working on at the moment where we integrate biophilia but don’t necessarily describe or explicitly mention it. All that’s important to us as consultants is the value it brings to the project, and that the spaces we design are healthy and productive spaces.

Are there any trends you find particularly interesting or effective?

Matt: A lot of research into lighting and its effect on our physical and mental performance is happening at the moment. We were doing some research on circadian rhythms, and on how one’s mood shifts throughout the day: how our energy peaks in the morning and wanes off as the day passes. The results could be very impactful for our clients and could lead the way in terms of how they  use their work spaces.

Diane: Hotels are in fact designing and implementing circadian rhythm lighting to help guests sleep better! The lighting changes according to what time zone you’ve come from, and simulates the correct light levels to re-calibrate the circadian rhythms and counter jet-lag. Within 24 hours, you are back to normal and feeling refreshed.

Biophilic Design

How closely integrated is biophilic design and wellness?

Diane: At Perkins+Will, we try our best to integrate biophilic design into every project we work on. Here in Dubai especially, we work in such fast-paced environments and biophilic design offers us the tools to help people reduce stress and aid recuperation helping them get back to their optimum working state faster. There’s a misconception about biophilia being limited to office spaces – it’s especially important in healthcare as well. Considering healthcare institutions are often places for people to heal, biophilic design has been demonstrated to reduce recuperation rates and levels of post-operative pain care medication.

Matt: Absenteeism is a huge problem now, and you can clearly see more and more people are taking sick leave or are simply disengaged because they work in offices that are cramped, noisy and distracting – paying little or no attention to their physical and mental wellbeing. At Interface, we’re constantly looking into integrating biophilic design into our products. We always consider how our products help designers improve the overall wellness experience of any space.

How relevant is biophilic design in the digital age?

Diane: In many ways, technology has made us more disconnected than ever. Personal interactions are on the decline and seen as unnecessary by the younger generations, and fewer people are opting to go outdoors. This dependence on technology is no doubt having a profound influence on their wellness. Through biophilic design, we can reinforce the human connection with nature, and bring people back to a state that they natural thrive in.

In a place like Dubai, a city adorned with concrete, steel and glass, how does a designer or architect make sure biophilic design is effective?

Matt: Here in the Middle East, we don’t have the luxury that a lot of other countries have in terms of scenic beauty and natural greenery all around. So we need to find creative ways to improve building occupants’ connections with the benefits of nature. Whether it’s the use of products that mimic natural patterns or create spaces within built environments such as refuge spaces, it’s the design of the space that can truly make a difference.

Diane: I have full confidence in our team, but I believe that for biophilic design to be truly effective, it’s the developers who should be collaborating and taking up this challenge. Developers and planners should take note of biophilic design at a high level. The flow from outside to inside should be seamless, not disconnected.

The creation of the Biophilic Hub aims to stimulate regional awareness in interior design, similar to the global initiative with humanspaces.com. As a design principal, what would have to happen for you to consider this a success one year from today?

Diane: I would like to see everyone on board, right from developers to designers to even MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) teams. All teams involved in the various stages of the project have to be on the same page. You’d be surprised at what MEP teams have to contribute. Developers and clients see biophilic design as a ‘nice to have’, and not an essential – that needs to change. When it comes to holistic design, biophilia needs to become the first thing we look at, and it should be the driving force behind all of our collective decisions.

Biophilic Design

Big picture: What does the future hold for a city or a firm that has truly embraced biophilic design and wellness?

Diane: We always ask our clients: do you want to be an organisation that attracts the best talent, and do you want that talent to stay? The answer is always a resounding YES. If they embrace wellness and biophilic design, then they are truly on their way to the top of the food chain when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Matt: Dubai in particular, has always been a leader of change. If it can embrace and integrate biophilic design on a city-wide scale, then I believe it can compete with other cities like London or San Francisco in terms of attracting talent and getting them to stay.

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