Café Sci December 2016

For the final Cafe Sci of the year, Nicole Porter joins us to talk about biophilic design.

Biophilic design is creating buildings, landscapes and cities that connect people with nature. Biophilic is the love of life, an inherent inclination to affiliate with the natural world, it is a healthy human condition. This is something that has been acknowledged in the choice of Pantone’s colour of the year for 2017: 15-0343, Greenery. It is “symbolic of a new beginning” and “the reconnection we seek with nature, each other and a larger purpose.” The idea of biophilic design is to improve people’s physical and mental health through positive connections to nature in a context of ecological meaning.

There are a number of ways to achieve this in a space – the use of gravity, natural materials such as stone. Trying to create a restorative setting. We are instinctively drawn to mystery and complexity, over-simplification bores us. So, what sort of things keep our attention? The following elements are key:

Life – living things such as plants
Water – life giving properties
Light – defuse and dappled
Colour – natural palettes and subtlety
Gravity – natural forces and patterns
Fractals- geometric patterns, repetitions
Curves – organic, there are few straight lines in natures
Details – bodily scale
Accordances – prospect/refuge

Are we hard wired to be biophilic and like certain spaces? For a long time we were living in savannah and that is the natural environment that we process. Our modern environments are often missing many of these elements. There is a 90 page World Health Organisation report into urban spaces and health.

The view from the windows in the Royal Hospital in Liverpool is designed to be appreciated – the park outside is part of the treatment. Birmingham is a biophilic city and is especially popular with the “edible movement”. The London Olympic Park contains reed habitats, trying to connect with animal life. However, a little care needs to be taken as there is also biophobia for animals that we’re not keen on.

How do we create a grotto for crayfish? Crayfish are an indicator species for overall health of rivers. This is all part of connecting with the habitat. Helsinki does this very well with its park.

Can biophilia be proven? Is it really innate? What challenges its idea? Is sustainability a better idea? Is it all just a hippy fad? How does biophilic design become mainstream? How do we make it affordable? How can you calculate the monetary value of green space? Biophilic design only makes sense if it is financially sustainable but do we lose sense of the inherent value in it if we only think of it in purely economic terms?

These days someone like Gaudí would be considered to be biophilic design but he would certainly never have said that. However, he did work with natural forces.

One of the latest ideas of biophilic design is that of sustainable urban drainage, otherwise known as rain gardens. This connection to water proves that you don’t need to be a sunny country to incorporate biophilic design. In Singapore, developers get a bonus for including green spaces as part of the LUSH programme. The forefathers of New York deliberately left a big space for Central Park when Manhattan was laid out.

In the past mankind has dealt with nature and any threats that it has through aversion, domination and/or exploitation. Is the biophilic ethic proof of how far we have come as a species? Is it now up to us to “save” nature? We have always had a range of relationships with nature but at when did we reach the point of wanting to really reconnect with nature?

Author’s notes

Talk from 12/12/2016 at The Vat & Fiddle – Nicole Porter: Biophilic Design – Buildings & Cities To Connect People With Nature

Previously unpublished due to Ash from the Nottingham Science Blog producing a write-up pretty much before I even got home from the talk.

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