Renaturing architecture: Biophilic Design for a healthier and more productive life
The more urban our lives become, the more we lose contact with nature. CORPUS met Designer and architect Oliver Heath, who explains, how Biophilic Design can improve health and well-being.
How design and architecture can contribute to well-being and health is impressively demonstrated by the approach of British designer Oliver Heath. He shows how the idea of ‘Biophilic Design’ can be successfully implemented in architecture and interior design. So how can buildings, architecture and infrastructure help to improve cognitive performance and, more importantly, mental and physical health?
The more urban our lives become, the more we lose contact with nature. With obvious consequences: working without daylight, lack of exercise, loss of concentration, and a departure from the natural rhythms of life. The principles of Biophilic Design attempt to counteract this trend by bringing people in their urban environment dominated by buildings back into contact with nature. But how do we bring nature into architecture and integrate it in interior design? Corpus talked to Oliver Heath about this challenge. His office Oliver Heath Design pursues explicitly sustainable architecture and design with the goal of promoting the individual’s health and well-being in the built-up environment and designing productive, healthy and ultimately happy habitable spaces.
CORPUS: How did you arrive at the idea of Biophilic Design?
OLIVER HEATH: I grew up in Brighton, which is by the sea, in England. My earliest memories are of buildings that were very much connected with nature. Later, when I studied architecture, the idea that we would surround ourselves with nature was fundamental to the spaces that I found myself creating. In reality, however, because of the drive for sustainability, building design has become increasingly an engineering subject. But there’s a human-centered side that’s very much in the realm of architecture and design and one that we can influence. It is really important that that we bring health and well-being back into buildings. Biophilic Design for me is one of the keys to improving health and well-being.
CORPUS: How is the principle of Biophilic Design put into practice?
OLIVER HEATH: There are lots of ways. The first one is obvious and involves integrating plants in the design, improving the connection with sunlight and fresh air in buildings. But we can also introduce an indirect connection to nature by using colors, materials, textures, patterns, and technologies. We have to design buildings that are exciting and stimulating, as well as interiors that are calming, restorative, and recuperative. Biophilic Design is based on knowledge accumulated over 35 years and is evidence-based. So we can clearly say today that the design of offices and workplaces is capable of improving productivity and creativity while reducing absenteeism and presenteeism.
CORPUS: Can design be implemented globally or is it more an approach for wealthy industrialized nations that are willing to spend more money on modern architecture?
OLIVER HEATH: Biophilic Design is something that can be brought in at all different cost levels. And the only limitation is our creativity. In every building that we create we have decisions to make on flooring, on walls, on windows, on surfaces, the use of natural light to balance the circadian rhythm – every decision is capable of positively influencing the effect of nature in a building. So creating a stronger connection with nature is all about creativity and not about money.
CORPUS: How is Biophilic Design set to develop? What’s your vision for the next ten years?
OLIVER HEATH: For me one of the most exciting areas of Biophilic Design is how we are going to mimic nature. I’ve recently been working alongside Interface, a flooring company. With their colors, textures, and patterns they take a biomimetic approach to the design of their flooring surfaces. By mimicking a sense of nature, they are allowing us to start to zone spaces for different needs. Spaces where we can walk. Spaces where we can meet and have conversations, because different pile heights create different acoustics and a different sense of luxury within that space. A greater level of biodiversity is a potential that will enable people to carry out more functions more efficiently, live more creatively and improve connectivity and communication, which will ultimately stimulate new ideas.