In his book “The Aesthetic Brain,” Anjun Chatterjee outlines the results of a study by Balling & Falk in 1982, which found that after seeing a variety of landscapes, participants said that they’d prefer to live in the Savannah over any other environment shown to them. This gave rise to the theory that that humans are pre-wired to prefer landscapes that resemble features of our ancestral habitat—the African Savannah.
Our ancestors millions of years ago would have looked out onto large plains, with lots of natural light, and space. They would have seen trees, for cover and food, water for drinking and washing, animals to hunt and maybe rocks and caves for shelter. Man could see everything he needed to survive. The savannah theory put this into a modern perspective – to make us feel our best, we need to be able see similar traits in our environment.
Chatterjee also points out that hunter-gatherers were attracted to places that provided safety and sustenance. Therefore, people are often more comfortable in spaces that have water, large trees and vegetation, and openness where one can easily scan the surrounding area for any impending danger.
This style is becoming more realised in architecture and interior design, with architects drawing inspiration from natural shapes and scenes. Natural textures, colours, plants and water features are being brought into designs, ending the clinical ‘white box’ design trends of recent years. Employees now have interesting, vibrant spaces, full of elements that our brains are naturally hard-wired to interact positively with.
What are the benefit of plants and biophilia?
Dr Craig Knight, from Exeter University, wrote “If you put an ant into a ‘lean’ jam jar, or a gorilla in a zoo into a ‘lean’ cage – they’re miserable beasties… People in “lean” offices are no different”. He conducted multiple experiments, and proved that just adding plants to sparse offices resulted in employee performance, memory retention and other basic tests improved.
When plants have been introduced into offices, productivity has been proven to increase by 15% and creativity by 6%. Staff sickness decreases also, meaning less sick days taken. Workers participating in the Human Spaces report (2015) reported a 15% higher wellbeing score when biophilic elements were introduced into their working environment. A study conducted in 2007 showed that plants could reduce Carbon Dioxide by up to 25%!
Today, 55% of people live in urban cities and suburbs, which generally foster alienation from nature. However, through design applications, we can restore the human-nature connection that is seemingly disappearing in the built environment. Take for instance the brutalist movement of the 50’s and 60’s – where large chunky concrete structures were glorified and no thought was given to incorporating any element of nature. Now we are seeing the need for mimicking nature in the architecture of cities – sleek, slender shapes and natural curves are helping to ‘soften’ the cityscape, green walls are being installed on the side of buildings and schemes are underway for the planting of trees and shrubs to boost the level of greenery in a city.
How can Biophilic elements be implemented?
One of the easiest ways to incorporate this is with planting as this can have an immediate effect with very little fuss. Plants also help filter out indoor air pollutants, including Formaldehyde and Ammonia, helping keep the air in workplaces cleaner and improving oxygen levels and air quality (more on this here). Another big part of the biophilic experience is lighting. Mimicking natural light characteristics and sequences will resonate with the human body’s natural circadian rhythms and will leave workers feeling more energised and productive (Learn about circadian rhythms here). Natural textures such as wood, stone and greenery can all be introduced into a space through the furniture material, wallcoverings, carpet and, of course, plants and planters. A number of manufacturers now offer biophilic designs, including grass, moss and wood effect carpets and flooring.
The benefits of happy staff are only too apparent, less resignations, more productive staff, less sickness, and a better culture within the company. Biophilia, and planting especially, needs to be taken seriously for companies to really drive towards a better, healthier, greener workplace.