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Jeremy Faludi, 6 May 04


One design methodology that's gaining popularity in the green movement is "Biophilia". It's not a new idea--Edward O Wilson first proposed it twenty years ago--but in the last few years studies have begun to be done, showing it has significant and measurable effects on people's state of mind. The idea is that people function best in environments like the ones we evolved in, with other life around and with spaces that are more like habitats than like Cartesian boxes. Biophilia dovetails perfectly with green building because it involves giving buildings natural lighting and outdoor air, plants, water, and generally blurring the boundaries between building and landscape. Furthermore, it gives green building more of a soul than merely improving HVAC and fluorescent lighting.

In biophilic spaces, patients recover more quickly, students learn better, retail sales are higher, workplace productivity goes up, and absenteeism goes down. Sometimes the differences are up to 15 or 20%, which is huge (and retail sales can increase by a staggering 40% just from daylighting); in many workplace environments, the financial gains from even a 10% increased worker productivity can pay for a green retrofit two or three times over. This is a much more effective bargaining tool than energy savings, as most offices spend 100 to 1000 times the amount of money on salaries as they do on building energy.

Some success stories for Biophilia include Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (widely considered the most important piece of American architecture in the last hundred years), ING Bank headquarters in Amsterdam (where absenteeism went down 15%), and Village Homes in Davis, California (which local real estate brochures describe as “Davis’s most desirable subdivision”). A Rocky Mountain Institute article describes it further:

Judith Heerwagen... and Prof. Gordon Orians... surveyed people in a variety of cultures and locations around the world to see if there were a preferred image of landscape. What they and others found is that people prefer landscapes that have copses of trees with horizontal canopies, water, elevation changes, distant views, flowers, indications of other people or inhabited structures—all elements that indicate possible food, shelter, and places to explore (or, as Heerwagen and Gordon Orians describe it in The Biophilia Hypothesis, “habitability cues, resource availability, shelter and predator protection, hazard cues, wayfinding and movement”)...

biophilic [building] design attributes include:
- the use of dynamic and diffuse daylight,
- the ability to have frequent, spontaneous and repeated contact with nature throughout and between buildings,
- the use of local, natural materials,
- a connection between interior and exterior surfaces,
- natural ventilation,
- a direct physical connection to nature from interior spaces, and
- direct visual access to nature from interior spaces.

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When I was a horticulture major (way way way back when) we used to pay regular visits to The Village in Davis. For all of us in the program it seemed an idyllic setting, one which most of us have been striving to find and/or recreate wherever we have ended up. I recommend further reading about it to anyone interested in a better way of living.

Posted by: CTP on 7 May 04

I think the idea of flora with architecture is great. Large windows and plenty of shrubs. The only criticism I have is the indirect incouragement of suburbia.

We definitely have to talk about greenery in urban settings. I would rather live in a dense city and know that there is real wilderness out there I can visit then a housing community in what used to be a farm.

Posted by: Michael Phoenix on 9 May 04

Actually, Biophilia in no way implies a suburbanization of cities. We're not talking about lawns here, we're talking about making mixing indoor more like outdoor. For instance, the Swiss Re headquarters in London is a huge office building that will have "sky gardens" spiraling up the inside of its stretched-egg-shape walls, so the people inside get exposure to green plants (as well as fresher, more oxygenated air) while at the office. It's a beautiful building, though not quite finished yet.

Posted by: Jer on 9 May 04



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