Spotlight on Biophilic Design

Through careful consideration of the built environment, schools can create a positive impact on the well-being of their students, providing optimal conditions for education and development. The inclusion of biophilic design elements in classroom spaces improves student wellness and positivity. Paula Meason, an education segment expert at Interface, spoke with School Planning & Management to explain biophilic design and its importance in facility design.

According to the Theory of Cognitive Development, a child’s identity is in full-fledged development mode by the age of seven. During this time, children begin to become aware of their independence and are more interested in the world surrounding them. They are also impressionable and vulnerable, relying on their teachers and parents to provide them with the knowledge needed to excel in the outside world. Students become aware of the fact that they can succeed, but they can also fail. The biological, physical, and social changes that occur during this period of time can be affected by a student’s surroundings at home and at school. K-12 education facilities should consider providing students with spaces that foster student wellness and growth to ensure that individual identity development is not threatened.

Q: What is biophilic design?

Biophilic design stems from the idea of “biophilia,” or the intrinsic human desire to connect to and with nature and other life forms. Established through this connection, the exposure to nature elicits positive physiological and emotional reactions, including lower blood pressure, improved cognitive performance, reduced stress hormones, and improved overall happiness. The practice of biophilic design integrates this innate human connection into the built environment, optimizing the space to provide enhanced mental health and wellness. Through this design consideration, K-12 school facilities offer their students optimal spaces that promote positive education and individual growth.

Biophilic design is achieved through the inclusion of natural elements in interior and architectural design, connecting occupants with their surroundings. Humans spend 90 percent of their time indoors in the modern built environment, which often fails to take into consideration our intrinsic relationship to the natural world as nature is seen as a hindrance to design rather than a companion.

The practice of successful biophilic design supports continuous engagement with nature, promoting the formation of positive relationships between humans and nature. While there are many frameworks to achieve this connection between occupants and the space, Terrapin Bright Green provides a vast scope of resources. Biophilic design can be achieved through consideration of Terrapin’s 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, which are placed into three larger categories – Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space, allowing for a variety of practices to be enabled in achieving a successful space.

Q: How does the inclusion of biophilic design impact student wellness and performance?

Through biophilic design, students are provided with the chance for more exploratory learning, allowing for student’s to safely interact and experiment with their surroundings. In K-12 spaces, biophilic design can support increased attendance and academic performance, reduced stress, and increased focus.

Spending time in nature has long been associated with extensive health benefits, extending into mental health. A recent report, which compiled data from 290 million people across 140 studies from over 20 countries, analyzed the health of those who spent time in nature spaces and those who did not. For those who were able to access these spaces, diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress were decreased, and sleep duration was increased. Biophilic design brings these benefits closer to the students who interact with built spaces, further promoting a child’s ability to interact with others, and enhance their development.

When students feel good, their academic capabilities and performance improve. Well-being is intrinsically linked to productivity and success. A K-12 study found that 20 to 26 percent of students learned faster in spaces that incorporated sunlight, and, as a result, test scores increased five to 14 percent. The same study found that students test scores dropped 17 percent when learning in classrooms without direct exposure to sunlight. When students are struggling to connect to their space through natural elements, it becomes more difficult to focus on their teachers and environment.

In addition, biophilic design encourages a relaxed state of mind among students, which results in increased time spent on educational exploration and stimulation, allowing for creativity and positivity.

Q: What are some ways that biophilic design can be implemented into facility design?

Biophilic design is an important consideration in developing the built environment. As schools begin to consider how their space can be adapted to include natural elements, they can first implement smaller components like ensuring all nature views are utilized, opening windows or blinds that look out on green spaces. Exposure to sources of water and natural ventilation also provide a sense of connection to nature. Spaces can be equipped with greenery and vegetation, allowing for increased contact between occupants and environmental elements in the built environment.

If a space’s functionality limits the possibility for direct interaction with nature, an indirect experience can be achieved through photography and the integrating of natural materials, colors, and patterns. Natural patterns like spirals, fractals, or tessellations can be easily integrated into the space through pathway and structural design, fabric and flooring, and other finishes, which are consistent elements across all built environment spaces. Schools can opt for LVT products that mimic the appearance of wood or stone, allowing for smooth incorporation of natural patterns into the space. Natural earth tones can also be incorporated into the space to mimic the natural environment.

As related to overall facility design, schools should consider their surrounding environment, incorporating elements from the outside into the layout of their spaces, providing students with spaces that make use of all natural light available or provide views onto a natural landscape. Schools can also take advantage of outside learning spaces, allowing for experiential learning with the natural landscape.

Through implementation of these design elements, schools can position themselves as trailblazers who provide spaces that promote student wellness and development through spaces and opportunities that encourage students to begin exploration and integration into their surroundings.