We live in a time when so much of our lives are spent indoors and consumed by technology. This (for the majority) is life in the 21st century. We have never been so disconnected from nature and Mother Earth, which is extraordinary when you stop and consider we evolved outside. Our species very survival and development has been reliant on a deep connection to, and understanding of, nature.
In need of nature
The spaces we inhabit, home and work, deeply impact our mental and physical health - as does everything we choose to surround ourselves with. We live in a state of constant digital distraction, which can disrupt our sleep patterns, erode our focus and limit our ability to enjoy the here and now. There is an app for everything, our lives are run by so called SMART devices. This technology is supposed to ease the stresses of every day life yet our reliance on it only deepens our disconnect from the natural world.
With stress has being classified by World Health Organisation as a 21st century health epidemic and as global events seem to spiral further with every passing week, our built environments have become even more important as a place of sanctuary and restoration.
The 14 patterns of biophilic design have been distilled from over three decades of research, theory, and scientific study. The basis for these design principles is evidence based. These patterns have created a blueprint for architects, town & city planners, and interior designers to mould a vision of the built environment that can support and nourish the human experience of spaces. Spaces both indoors and out, can be created to benefit the occupant, enhance our physical and mental wellbeing by using these design patterns.
If you follow my Instagram feed, you may have seen my series Bite-size Biophilia in which I aimed to give a taste of what each of the patterns of biophilic patterns can do to enhance our experience in the built environment. Here on my journal, I wanted to explore each pattern in more depth. Many of the biophilic design patterns are easily achievable through retrofit into our living and work spaces, but I wanted to further highlight design elements to each pattern that can be best achieved when they form part of a new build or renovations.
To feel inspired by how deeply we can connect our homes to nature, read on.
Pattern 1: Visual Connection to Nature
In our homes and built environments we define this as a view onto real elements of nature, living systems and natural process either directly or through a window.
When we experience a visual connection to nature outdoors, we are part of a rich natural environment with diverse landscapes. Natural experiences could feature grasslands, forests, woodlands, mountains, shoreline, deserts, or rivers. Each landscape with its own diverse range of colour, pattern and texture with region specific flora, fauna, and wildlife.
Out in nature we experience the change in weather, the passing of time throughout the day and how the movement of the sun changes the light across the landscape. Our visual connection to the natural world happens all around us, at different heights and focal lengths. We stand beside a tree trunk, its leafy canopy reaching above us. We feel the earth below our feet (be it soil, sand, rock or grass) and we see the horizon in the distance.
Creating visual connections to nature
Plants connect us directly to nature and provide living elements to our spaces. Consider every surface as a potential place to add a plant/s - and remember, plants do thrive when grouped together:
place on any surface like furniture and shelves
walls are good to feature climbing/trailing plants or living walls like moss art
hanging planters help create different focal points for greenery
use plants to divide and screen spaces, ideal in large open place rooms and especially effective when used as part of a room divider
use floor planters at varying heights to create interest
using large leafed plants in corners of the room to help with acoustics too
Pets make a home in my opinion and animals connect us visually to nature and living systems. It is well documented that sharing our home with a pet calms us, helping to nurture feelings of wellbeing. Pets can alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. And lets not forget if you have a dog or a horse, daily exercise means you are helping to boost your mental and physical wellbeing by being outside too.
Aquariums are tranquil and a wonderful way to connect to living creatures when you can’t commit the time to a dog or a cat.
3. Views Out
Finding spaces in our homes to take advantage of views out can connect us to nature whatever the weather outside. A view out to watch the clouds roll by or weather systems roll in, an armchair positioned by a window makes a cosy nook to watch the rain or a spot to watch the birds in the garden.
The key to making the most of views out is clean windows, its amazing how much light a dirty window can block. Keep curtains drawn back and blinds rolled up to allow as much natural light in as possible. It costs nothing to orientate furniture to look out of a window, but it can have a significant impact on how we enjoy the space.
A view of nature is such a positive feature while we are working. Positioning your desk under a window will maximise your exposure to natural light which helps aid your focus and concentration. Studies have shown a view of nature can increase task performance by up to 25% and having a view of constantly changes natural systems like the weather and the passage of the seasons enhances feelings of wellbeing.
If the design of your room doesn’t allow for a desk to be placed near a window, place a mirror to capture a reflection of an outside view.
4. But I don’t have a view…
If you don’t have a view out across any greenery you can easily make one.
Window boxes are a quick fix to add greenery to your view at an affordable price. Not only will a window box add living greenery, if you get clever with your planting it can also attract diverse wildlife too. Outside my study window I have a window box planted with ivy and flowering sedum. Every day I am visited by a Wren who loves to forage amongst the plants and the bees love the sedum flowers. I also have a window bird feeder which the blue tits love.
If your windows sills are too narrow for a planter or you live in a flat/apartment, select plant species that love full light to adorn your inside sill, such as Pilea, succulents or cacti and Monstera Deliciosa. Then place planters on the floor by the window and hang trailing/climbing plants either side of your window to create a framed view of greenery.
It is always best to prioritise real forms of nature. Living plants are so beneficial to our indoor spaces but if its not possible or you don’t have the time to care for them, artificial plants can still have a positive effect and are better than none at all. Buying faux plants made from natural materials like silk over plastic is preferable, being every mindful of any toxins we my unknowingly bring into our homes.
Visual connections to nature to consider when building/renovating
Whilst the ideas above are easy to achieve and can be added to almost any space, if you are fortunate enough to be building or renovating your home, there are several ideas you might want to bring to consider as part of your design scheme.
At the stage you are consulting with architects and builders, consider the following to maximise any opportunity to connect with existing natural features or views by:
Orientating the building to maximise views out, floor to ceiling windows located around the property to frame any natural features such as a tree, a view across rolling countryside/mountain.
Installing the biggest windows possible will maximise natural light and consider any additional spaces where a skylight may be positioned to draw light into the building.
If extending, consider a series of skylights or full-length glazed panel where the two buildings meet. This will flood the space with natural light making a clear distinction between old and new.
Design deeper windows sills, drop the window level and/or install oriel windows to create window seats. If you want spaces for plants on windowsills, ensure no radiators are positioned below.
If part of the build features a flat roof, take advantage of the opportunity this area offers by planting a living roof –especially effective when the flat roof is viewed from an upstairs window giving a pleasing view of natural systems while encouraging biodiversity.
Creating an internal courtyard can provide a flexible or sheltered outdoor living space and if surrounded by glazing it will afford internal views out into the courtyard which can be planted to create a hidden garden.
The benefits to our health and wellbeing
Over the last three decades several studies have taken place looking at the impact a visual connection to nature has on the human body. The key findings of having a visual connection to nature were:
Lowered blood pressure and heart rate*
Improved mental engagement and attentiveness**
Positively impacts attitude and overall feelings of happiness***
An extensive global study by flooring manufacturer Interface demonstrated that having a view onto living elements or a view out into nature increased feelings of wellbeing by 15%
Nature is the best medicine
In 1980 Roger Ulrich undertook a five-year study looking at recuperation rates of patients recovering from gall bladder surgery. Half of the test patients had a hospital bed with a view of brick wall/building and the other half had a view out into nature.
Ulrich’s study found patients with the views of nature had 8.5% shorter hospitals stays. In a separate study in 2005 patients who had exposure to sunlight had reduced post-op perception of pain leading to 22% less analgesic medicine per hour and 21% less pain medication costs for the overall length of their hospital stay. Shorter stays, less medication and reduced costs is a fairly dramatic result from something as simple as giving patients a view of nature and exposure to sunlight. Nature really is the best medicine.
Coming up in my next post in this series is Pattern 2 - non-visual connection to nature
*Studies: Brown, Barton & Gladwell 2013 / Van den berg, Hartig & Staats 2007 / Tsunetsugu & Miyazaki 2005
** Biederman & Vessel 2006
*** Barton & Pretty 2010