Biophilic Architecture & Multifamily

At the the 2017 Greenbuild conference, panelists discussed a design strategy that incorporates natural elements to impact the health and well-being of building occupants.

By Mallory Bulman

Why is strolling through a garden relaxing? Why do people feel compelled to care for animals or keep plants in their homes or offices? Biophilia is a scientific hypothesis that contends that humans have an inherent need to seek connections with their natural surroundings and other forms of life, per Edward O. Wilson’s 1984 book Biophilia, which popularized the term.

While biophilia remains a theory, there is some strong evidence to suggest that natural and living elements are beneficial to human environments. According to a 2009 report by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, various studies have shown that contact with nature reduces stress, improves attention and can improve healing and mental restoration.

At the 2017 Greenbuild conference held by the United States Green Building Council in Boston, Jonce Walker, LEED AP, certified building advisor & associate in Thornton Tomasetti’s sustainability practice, explained the concept of biophilic design with examples from his company’s home of New York City. In today’s trend of minimalist, sleek design, Walker said, “we’ve lost some of the wonderful detail when using nature as a reference point for architectural designs.”

Some of his examples of biophilic design done right include:

Paley Park on the north side of East 53rd Street on a cloudy afternoon in late winter

Paley Park on the north side of East 53rd Street

  • Porous parks: Porous parks are those that are integrated into a space itself, not a destination on its own. Using the example of Midtown Manhattans “pocket park” Paley Park, Walker pointed out the strategic use of airy trees, simple furniture and falling water to create a peaceful oasis in one of the busiest areas of the borough. “The (parks) that are super successful are porous, the ones you experience throughout your day,” Walker said. “A lot of people will walk through a park simply because it’s the easiest way to get where they’re going.”
  • Embrace the tide: “Most American coastal cities have out-engineered the tides, and this is cool because it celebrates the tides,” said Walker of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s beach design. Constructed from the remnant of a railroad float that settled on the riverbed, the Pier 4 includes native species and inventive structures created by ECOncrete, an ecological concrete solutions company, to mimic natural tidal pools usually found along rocky coasts. Visitors can access some of these pools, allowing an interactive experience with the park habitat.
  • 1280px-Ohalo_biophilic_learning_space02Fake it until you make it: Biophilic design isn’t just adding living elements to built environments. Even organic or nature-inspired shapes and patterns can produce similar positive responses from the human brain. Strategically placed windows, woodwork, masonry or organic shapes can conjure natural images, as can natural materials and color palettes. “You can do biophilic (design) if you don’t have access to natural light, if you can’t get things to grow or get living things, you can still do it. It really helps you connect to a place and evokes nature.”

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