Historically homes have been designed to be connected to nature. People slept on the earth, had windows in every room, and homes were not that large so you could easily just step outside. As the world continues to urbanize, this connection to the outside is ever more important. Given how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response, design that reconnects us with nature (biophilic design) is essential for providing people opportunities to live in healthy homes with less stress and greater overall health and well-being. Biophilic design has been shown to improve our well-being, reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, and expedite healing.
Rediscovering the Intuitively Obvious
Nature themes can be found in the earliest human structures: Stylized animals characteristic of the Neolithic era; the Egyptian sphinx, or the acanthus leaves adorning Greek temples and their Vitruvian origin story; the primitive hut; the delicate, leafy filigrees of Rococo design. Representations of animals and plants have long been used for decorative and symbolic ornamentation. Cultures around the world have long brought nature into homes. Classic examples include the garden courtyards of the Alhambra in Spain, porcelain fish bowls in ancient China, the aviary in Teotihuacan (ancient Mexico City), bonsai in Japanese homes, papyrus ponds in the homes of Egyptian nobles, the cottage garden in medieval Germany, or the elusive hanging gardens of Babylon.
The consistency of natural themes in historic structures and places suggests that biophilic design is not a new phenomenon, but a human intuition that connections with nature are vital to maintaining a healthful and vibrant existence.
Prior to and even after the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of humans lived an agrarian existence, living much of their lives among nature. But even as urbanization grew in the 19th Century, reformers became increasingly concerned with health, and the creation of large public parks became a campaign to improve the health and reduce the stress of urban living.American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted argued in 1865, that “the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.” People went to the mountains or seashore for recreation. Henry David Thoreau built a cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts from which he wrote treatises on a simpler life, connected to nature, which still resonate in the American consciousness.
Some people even pushed back against what they saw as the dehumanizing experience of industrial cities. They argued for objects and buildings that reflected the hand of the craftsman and drew from nature for inspiration.
The term ‘biophilia’ was first coined by social psychologist Eric Fromm and later popularized by biologist Edward Wilson.
The healing power of a connection with nature was established by Roger Ulrich’s landmark study comparing recovery rates of patients with and without a view to nature.