What is Biophilia?
Over the span of history, humans have developed an affinity for the life-supporting aspects of the natural world. This attraction to nature is referred to as biophilia, literally meaning "love of nature".
This natural love of nature has spurred innovation in the architectural community. Designers have endless opportunities to reconnect us with nature by incorporating biophilic elements in their designs.
Biophilia and its impact on healthcare environments
View the Golisano Children's Hospital project profile.
In the article, What is biophilic design in architecture? appearing on EarthTalk.org, author Stephen Kellert says that unfortunately, while man may have evolved in the natural world, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors. Kellert contends this has led to an increasing disconnect with the natural world.
It is the interior space where healthcare happens. After all, don’t we say things like, “Your Uncle Al is in the hospital”? Patients in healthcare settings often experience high stress, either due to their actual condition or just the difficulties of diagnostic procedures and testing. Oliver Heath, writing for HumanSpaces.com, said,
"The experience usually happens at a time when the individual is in need of care or restoration and the visit in itself can be stressful. For many of us the fear and anxiety associated with clinical settings can make treatment more difficult or create barriers to seeking help in the first place, both of which can exacerbate healthcare issues."
Heath goes on to speculate that “connecting with nature can be a way to alleviate stress and anxiety [thus] improving the user experience in healthcare environments,” and he adds that the benefits of biophilic design would also spill over to families, visitors and healthcare workers.
What one comes to quickly realize is that there is significant consensus among design professionals that: Incorporating nature makes us feel better. Yeah, we get that. However, there appears to be an equally significant lack of empirical evidence that biophilic design equals improved patient outcomes. A classic measure would be reduced hospital stays.
If there was a landmark inaugural study of biophilia in healthcare design, it might be thanks to Dr. Roger Ulrich of Sweden. In the article, Healthcare Design Gets Back To Nature in Commercial Architecture (Feb. 2016), Senior Editor Ken Betz, writes:
"Roger Ulrich, Ph.D., EDAC, a professor of architecture at the Center for Healthcare Building Research at Chalmers Univ. of Technology in Sweden didn’t use the term biophilia when he did a study in 1984 that suggested simply that surgery patients recovered better in rooms with a view through a window. But “what few realize is that Ulrich’s famous study was essentially about the impact of biophilic design on the built environment,” said David Navarrete, director, research initiatives, The Sky Factory, Fairfield, IA."
Catie Ryan expanded on the importance of Ulrich’s classic study, which measured the influence of natural and urban sceneries on patients recovering from gallbladder surgery. “Some patients were provided with views to nature, whereas others looked at brick walls. With all other variables equal, his findings revealed accelerated recovery rates and reduced stress for the patients who had views of nature. On average, patients whose windows overlooked a scene of nature were released after 7.96 days, compared with the 8.71 days it took for patients whose views were of the hospital’s exterior walls to recover sufficiently to be released—a decrease of 8.5%,” she said.
Those are some impressive numbers, to be sure. But, Ullrich’s work is nearing 35 years old. What we would hope is for others in healthcare design to work at repeating or augmenting Ulrich’s research; that is, bringing evidence-based rigor to the process of quantifying biophilic design’s impacts.
Still, we feel confident in saying that utilizing nature as a healing distraction benefits all ages of patients. By allowing the lines between interior and exterior to blur, the benefits of the outdoors can be brought inside. Similarly, accessible outdoor spaces that carefully address safety concerns can be calming, positive and therapeutic distractions.
Three design elements to aid in bringing the outdoors in
Aspex® Printed Wall Protection
Imagine turning nature scenes into whole-wall imagery or using large graphics to inspire and give hope. Aspex® Printed Wall Protection combines high resolution images with durable wall protection. The beauty of the product is in the unlimited options available to the designer.
Along with endless design ability, Aspex provides high-impact durability to your wall and clear, crisp imagery of digital printing. The graphic is back-printed onto the clear sheet you don’t have to worry about the image being scratched over time.
Click here to see more Aspex photos, product details, and documentation.
Here are a couple of projects that utilized Aspex Printed Wall Protection to bring the views of nature inside their buildings: Golisano Children's Hospital, Wheaton Franciscan Cancer Center, and a major ICU Renovation Project.
WebbLok™ and WebbGlide™ Printed Roller Shades
As stated, the introduction of nature scenes has a benefit of reducing patient stress. An additional benefit of healing window treatments is that they reduce destruction where framed artwork is not allowed. We’ve been told by administrators at several behavioral health facilities that patients tend to not vandalize window shades in spaces where printed shades were installed. Patients appreciated the printed images and were less likely to damage or destroy them.
Click here to learn more about our printed window shades.
Solarity® Window Shades
Allowing daylight in improves overall mood and worker productivity. Fabrics with higher openness factors can reduce the sun’s glare, yet still allow for outside views.
Click here to learn more about our commercial window shades.