Biophilic architecture, buildings inspired by natureBiophilic architecture is the construction industry’s response to new environmental challenges in cities and the concept of urban regeneration. Below we analyze this new discipline.
The legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven wonders of the Ancient World, are thought to have been an outpouring of nature in the middle of the desert. Their magnificent construction, erected next to a large water source, was teeming with a rich variety of trees, shrubs and all kinds of life distributed over terrace after terrace of gardens.
Centuries later, no one knows what happened to the gardens or why they disappeared. But, if we examine the writings of the time, we can say that the Babylonian Gardens were one of the first biophilic architecture designs ever recorded.
What will I learn from this article?
- What is biophilic architecture?
- The OMBÚ building
What is biophilic architecture?
We humans are innately connected to nature, even though half the present global population live in cities well away from vast plains or lush forests. Biophilic architecture emerged in an attempt to address this situation.
The term biophilia was introduced by the social psychologist Erich Fromm to describe “love for life” which explained two fundamental functions living organisms have: to maintain life in the face of threat from death, and to integrate positively.
Starting from this idea, biophilic architecture seeks to improve the quality of life by reconnecting humans with the natural environment in designing buildings and spaces which brings people closer to nature again.
“Biophilic architecture seeks to improve the quality of life by reconnecting humans with nature”
This is the modern solution to our progressive distancing from nature. But it is also the response of architecture to the increasing social and environmental challenges our world is experiencing: regenerative designs capable of generating a positive impact on the planet and its affected communities.
Features of biophilic architecture
Biophilic designs seek harmony with nature while tackling the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, air pollution and many other of today’s urgent challenges. Considered one of the pioneers of biophilic design, Stephen Kellert established the dimensions and attributes that define this type of architecture:
Direct experience of nature
When a building is constructed far outside the city, or in its suburbs, it is easy enough to offer panoramic views of the sea or a lush wood from the windows. But, inside the city, this is practically impossible. This is why architects are opting to design large interior patios with green space and trees in order to provide the occupants with views and access to nature.
It also seeks to satisfy the improvement of air quality and ventilation, access to natural light and the presence of interior vegetation and sources of, or elements that incorporate, water in the building design.
A good example of this are green walls and roofs. These structures not only provide visual opportunities for connecting with nature, but they also improve the environment. A green façade on top of an existing wall, or a “living wall” composed of plants, can help reduce urban heat island effect.
In warm climates, a green roof acts as a cooling mass by diverting solar light penetration. In colder climes, it provides greater insulation, resulting in lower demand for heating.
Indirect experience of nature
The indirect experience refers to contact with images or representations of nature. This category counts upon simple elements such as including paintings or sounds related to the environment. But we are also talking of more structural aspects here, such as materials and finishes, which play an essential role in the connection of the users of a space with nature. If we employ materials such as wood, we can project a natural environment within the space.
The same occurs with forms. If we include designs and patterns inspired by nature it will be easier to evoke it even in an office. We can also include natural geometries in decoration, such as honeycomb patterns developed by bees and the waves we find in water.
Experience of space and place
It consists of creating spaces which impact the emotions of people who occupy them. Biophilic architecture doesn’t only try to insert a plant or wooden table, it creates spaces where people want to be. In this sense, it is important to achieve distinct environments, stimulating places which inspire thought and creativity, as well as the important downtime we need.
Buildings have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people, given that we spend around 90% of our time inside. Recent studies affirm that a more sustainable design, as used in biophilic architecture, which favors contact with natural elements in a workspace, improves the wellbeing of people and increases their productivity. Reconnecting with nature is recognized as one of the most urgent challenges in contemporary urban architecture.
“Biophilic architecture improves the wellbeing of people and increases their productivity”
This was especially observed during the Covid-19 lockdowns, when most city residents had limited access to gardens, parks or fields. In this context, the integration of biophilic design is becoming increasingly important.
Urban regeneration and biophilic architecture
One of the most recent examples of biophilic architecture can be found in Madrid in the project to restore the OMBÚ building.
After years in disuse, the OMBÚ has been restored while respecting its original structure, converting it into a unique office complex based on biophilic architecture.
The rehabilitation of the building was based on circular economy and urban regeneration principles and has achieved a positive impact on the area.
The land degraded by its former use was treated and decontaminated. Now the space covers a surface area of over 2,400m2 where 350 trees were planted, as well as 28,000 other plants of diverse local species with low watering needs. The new interior structure of the building has been made out of the chestnut from nearby woods.
Biophilic architecture shows humans are able to transform the world they inhabit in harmony with nature. Other types of constructions - more sustainable and responsible with respect to the environment and people’s wellbeing - are possible thanks to this new way of designing and conceiving buildings.