Brutalism v Biophilia

As typical designers, we like the original concrete grid of the library, but that is because we have modernist architectural theory hammered into us at Art School.  Since leaving Art School and going into the real world, we have realised that it is not everyone’s cup of tea.  In fact, often these 1960/70’s structures can feel oppressive, brutal and lifeless.  So we often find ourselves asking the question – what will bring a building to life and enhance the overall sense of wellbeing?   

Biophilia is a popular concept that is being used by many to promote wellbeing. The Biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and the notion of biophilia is currently the focus of a design trend that attempts to remedy the disconnection between humans and nature caused by the built environment. Global companies including Apple, Amazon and Google have applied this thinking to their workplace environments. Incorporating nature into the built environment can benefit the individual as well as the company by reducing blood pressure and stress while increasing creativity and productivity.

Introducing nature to reduce stress and promote wellbeing is not a new idea.  In Origins of Architectural Pleasure Grant Hildebrant quotes the decades earlier work of Roger Ulrich,

“Roger Ulrich has shown that views of natural scenes bring about a reduction in stress among university students facing a challenging exam and that a view to natural setting, or even a picture representing a natural setting, significantly shortens recovery times for patients in hospital waiting rooms…… Other research shows that the intuitive custom of bringing flowers to patients improves their rate of recovery.  Flowers are widely understood to offer pleasure.” 

Biophilia does not just mean that we need to include views or organic elements in our spaces.  Often this can be difficult so we can use visual materials such as graphic artwork or include elements that mimic the natural environment.  However, we do need to take care – the materials used in a place can trigger many signals. 

“Honesty of material and environment are something that we can subliminally detect, we can sense the difference between the natural and the synthetic and we can see the difference between a hand crafted joint and a machine made one. We can tell if a building has the imprint of nature or humanity.” 

Biophilia and the many ways that the concept can be used to enhance our spaces is multi-layered and complex.  However, as outdoor learning spaces are likely to be popular due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, we think that it is a trend that is set to stay!

We would love to know what you think…

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