Spotlight On Biophilic Design

Through careful consideration of the built environment, colleges and universities can positively impact students’ well-being and performance. While improved wellness is typically associated with fitness and health centers, the inclusion of biophilic design elements across the campus can be just as influential.

Colleges and universities provide students with the singular experience of exploration and autonomy when defining their education. Throughout their time in college, students take courses, join clubs, serve in leadership roles, take on large research projects and define their majors and minors. In doing so, each individual is able to chart his or her own path to graduation, opting for the classes and lectures that best fit their needs and interests. To ensure these varied routes lead to success, university facilities and spaces must support student needs, and most importantly, student well-being.

Through careful consideration of the built environment, universities can positively impact students’ well-being and performance. While improved wellness is typically associated with fitness and health centers, the inclusion of biophilic design elements across the campus can be just as influential. Paula Meason, an education segment expert at Interface, spoke with College Planning & Management to explain biophilic design and its importance in facility design.

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, university facilities offer students and faculty with optimum spaces to live, work, and learn.

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.

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 for achieving 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?
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 natural spaces and those who did not. For those that were able to access green spaces, diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and stress were decreased, and sleep duration was increased. Biophilic design brings these benefits to the students who interact with built spaces on college campuses.

High levels of stress can be an extremely influential force on wellness. Stress reduces cognitive functioning, short-term and long-term memory processes, and can result in impaired immune systems, increasing risk of illness.

As college can already be stress-inducing for students, universities can help lessen stressful environments through biophilic design and natural elements, such as sunlight. According to a recent study, individuals who work in settings with natural design elements report a 15 percent increase in perceived well-being.

When students feel good, their academic performance also improves. Well-being is intrinsically linked to productivity. The recent Future Workplace Employee Experience study of the workplace found that 78 percent of employees find that access to natural light improves their wellbeing and 70 percent find that natural light improves work performance. The same can be applied to students in a classroom setting. Biophilic design provides occupants with feelings of relaxation, which promotes completion of tasks as the distractions associated with poor health are no longer top of mind.

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 universities begin to consider how space can be adapted to include natural elements, they can first implement smaller components like ensuring all nature views are being utilized, opening windows or blinds that look out on green spaces. 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. Products can be integrated that feature natural patterns like spirals, fractals or tessellations, which create comfort for occupants who recognize prior exposure to similar patterns. These patterns can be easily integrated through pathway and structural design, fabric and flooring, and other finishes, which are consistent elements across all built environment spaces. Universities 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.

Through implementation of these design elements, universities can be trailblazers of providing spaces that promote and improve student wellness, optimizing the opportunities for academic success and improved relationships on campus. As students explore the vast variety of options their university offers, they are cognizant that the school’s facilities will support any and all endeavors.