Photo credit: Biotecture
Photo credit: Oliver Heath Design
Photo credit: Biotecture
With a growing number of people spending the vast majority of their time indoors, there is a wealth of
evidence to suggest that creating strong connections between nature and man-made environments can
increase our wellbeing. Here, Dr Ed Suie, research director, BRE, considers how biophilic building design
can positively influence our physical and psychological health.
We know the health benefits of
exercise and a balanced diet,
but what of our buildings – the
environment we spend 90% of our
lives in? We isolate ourselves from nature at home,
at work and in daily life – and evidence abounds
that this is to our detriment.
Breaking through the visual beauty of buildings
and the ephemera that we surround ourselves with,
there is a deep complexity to health, wellbeing and
buildings. Comfort, mind and aesthetics hint at the
hidden depths of how we perceive and experience
materials, spaces and buildings – colour, light,
humidity, texture, surfaces. We explore further –
what materials are around us? Why do we get a
headache working in that environment? Why are
we calm in this space? Why are we hot when our
co-workers feel cold? It is complex and some of it is
personal to us as individuals.
Whole building certification schemes such as
BUILDING PRODUCTS | FEBRUARY
BREEAM have always had a section on health and
wellbeing in them. However, it was the WELL
Building Standard, Fitwel, Portico and others
that, in the last two years, have disrupted the
market. They focused attention on the health and
wellbeing of building occupants and, in the case
of offices, the spin-off of improved collaboration,
cooperation, communication and productivity.
These certification schemes raised questions never
asked of construction and refurbishment projects.
The World Green Building Council rightly pointed
out that staff and their benefits are responsible
for 90% of costs for an office-based company and
it seems wise to pay attention to the people as a
source for business improvement.
In terms of human evolution, our species has spent
a tiny fraction of time in the built environment.
Our physiological functions are adapted to nature,
yet we exist almost entirely in highly urbanised and
artificial settings. It is no surprise, therefore, that
the impact our buildings have on how we work,
heal, learn and rest is highly significant. From our
health and wellbeing to our livelihoods and the
economy, the natural world has a part to play and
the construction sector is no exception. Biophilic
design offers an inspiring umbrella, under which
many health and wellbeing features that impact on
workplace environments can be captured.
Harvard professor Edward O Wilson’s book,
‘Biophilia’, concluded we have a genetic connection
to nature and hold a biological need for physical,
mental and social connections with it. Research has
shown that being in natural environments – even
viewing scenes of nature – has a positive impact on
our wellbeing. Presence in natural environments
can alleviate negative emotions such as anger,
anxiety, depression and stress, while helping us
to restore, feel calm and be inspired. The health