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Humans share a very strong bond with nature marked by love, respect, and dependency. Biophilia implies affection for plants and all-things-nature. In fact, we have depended on nature for almost our entire existence during which nature has become critical to human’s physical mental health, and well-being. Modern world forces – especially indoor environments devoid of nature – have a negative impact on the human mind in the long run. And in current times, where the world is rapidly urbanizing, it is extremely crucial to understand the mental health benefits of nature. Embedding nature and natural systems in urban design and indoor, built environments is important in order to keep the human mind, body, and sense connected to a bio-centric world.

The history of nature themes

Nature themes and a penchant for nature can be found in most cultures throughout history. From the Egyptian Sphinx to the tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, acanthus leaves in the Greek temples to the leafy filigrees of Rococo design remains found in the ruins of Pompeii to the porcelain fishbowls in ancient China, nature has always been an integral part of homes and public spaces. It has not only appeared in decorative and symbolic form but also on a larger scale in the aviaries of ancient Mexico City, Japanese Bonsai, and the cottage gardens of medieval Germany. This shows that biophilic design has always been a part of society and has always been vital in maintaining a healthy and vibrant existence.

Modern spaces and the need for biophilic designs 

Modern urban spaces can be best described as concrete jungles. Our daily experiences and all the built environments around us are made of concrete, glass, and steel. Biophilic designs effectively eliminate stress and anxiety from built environments and are designed to maintain meaningful connections with nature. From healthcare facilities to offices, hospitality to retail spaces, schools, and colleges to airports, almost every sector of society is embracing biophilic interior design to bring some sanity into their chaotic world. 

Biophilia and healing process

And when it comes to restorative healing, nature has shown to play a big part. In the late 1980s, a study conducted by Ulrich concluded that patients with views of nature from their window had faster recovery rates, shorter hospital stays, and required fewer pain medications in comparison to patients who didn’t have such a view and were subject to a brick wall instead. This just goes on to show the importance of human connection to nature and how biophilic designs in hospitals can be highly therapeutic. Over the last few decades, a lot of research has been carried out looking at the effects of natural systems and surroundings and adding plants to sterile environments. The results have been positive and the fact that nature can help in preventing ailments may eventually be incorporated into evidence-based medicine.

Biophilic designs create healthy air with fewer pollutants due to the presence of potted plants and trees indoors. Having floral plants around is comforting due to the fact that they make the space look appealing and emit fragrances that humans find appealing. Greenery and the visual experience of plants in biophilic designs also makes a big difference as it makes the overall space more therapeutic and soothing. Such spaces have been reported to have psychological benefits by reducing stress, improving attention, and having a positive effect on mental restoration. In a study of office space, it was found that having a view of plants from workstations decreased the amount of reported sick leave. Clearly, plants and biophilic design principles promote a mindful space, lead to better employee performance, and result in a happier, healthier workforce. 

Strong or routine connections with nature can help in mental restoration during which our higher cognitive functions such as mental agility, memory, and our ability to think and learn can take a break. These energy-intensive functions can result in mental fatigue and depleted cognitive resources over time. Biophilic designs help in hitting that necessary ‘pause’ button. And not just mental but emotional restoration as well. Physiological responses triggered by connections with nature include muscle relaxation, lowering of diastolic blood pressure, and reduction of stress hormone (i.e., cortisol) levels in the bloodstream. 

Cities will continue to develop and will utilize concrete, glass, and steel more than ever. Humans will continue spending the majority of the time in built environments. However, humans will also turn to nature for their peaceful moments, for healing, for their comfort, and for their overall well-being. Biophilic urban design offers a way to shape these spaces and open up the possibility for micro-restorative experiences.