Living in the Biophilic Age

Throughout history, architecture has been a reflection of the times. In ancient Egypt, builders defied what was possible by building grand pyramids that served as tombs for kings. Roman architecture combined artful arches with thick, fortified walls. In the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco featured flares of drama that marked the Jazz Age.

With each passing era, there has been a combination of art and utility. Today is no different.

Hectic lifestyles and a growing concern for the natural environment have led us to architecture that is not only more efficient and sustainable, but also blurs the line between the tranquility of the outdoors and our indoor work and living spaces.

Defined as “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature,” biophilia is a trend that has made its way into buildings and homes throughout the world. All one needs to do is walk a building and construction tradeshow or turn on a home improvement channel to witness the large lites of glass capable of bringing the outdoors in.

Why? People crave light and a greater connection to nature—and with good reason. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we spend just 7% of our time outdoors, and the rest is spent in buildings or cars. In our daily lives, we are separated from the outside world, which can lead to negative effects on our physical and emotional health.

The building and construction industry has taken notice and is reacting to the data.

Seeking Health and Happiness

One third-party study conducted by a professor at Cornell University for View looked specifically at the health benefits of adding dynamic glass that optimizes natural light in spaces, while reducing solar heat gain and glare. The results from 313 office workers revealed 56% less drowsiness, 63% fewer headaches and 51% less eyestrain.

The same study also showed that workers with access to outside views and natural light were 2% more productive—the equivalent of an additional $100,000 of annual value for every 100 workers.

Another study detailed in Harvard Business Review placed access to natural light and views of the outdoors as the No. 1 desire for 1,614 North American workers. Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed felt not having access to natural light made them feel tired, and 43% said lack of light made them feel gloomy at work. On the flipside, proximity to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, was associated with a 15% increase in well-being and creativity, and 6% higher productivity.

Access to natural light clearly has merits when it comes to health and well-being, but studies have revealed that it can also lead to higher rent premiums, improved lease renewal rates and increased occupant satisfaction. The many benefits have led to most national and international green rating and certification programs adding health and well-being credits to their criteria.

Biophilia Here to Stay?

All the signs point to biophilia as being more than a passing ideal and Forbes agreed in an article from last year that cited it as a trend that is here to stay. In my opinion, it’s a sign of the times, and biophilia might just be the defining style that marks this era in the history of architecture.

But how do you accomplish true biophilic design? For further reading, I recommend this

article by the General Services Administration that lists elements in detail. Some aspects include:

  • Views of living nature, such as trees, water, flowers, fish tanks and koi ponds;
  • Use of natural materials, such as wood and stone; AND
  • Variations in sounds, light, color, temperature and air movement.

Questions or comments? Email me directly at joe.erb@quanex.com.