Biophilia: You and Me and Nature
Ahhh – summer vacation. I’m off to a lake in Minnesota. Next month I’ll spend another week at a lake in the Adirondacks. It’s not that I’m a nature girl, far from it. There’s plenty I don’t like about the great outdoors – snakes, ticks, flies, poison ivy – but the beauty and tranquility of the deep woods and smooth waters are irresistible.
The term for this instinctive bond between humans and nature is biophilia, coined by botanist Edward O. Wilson. In his book, The Biophilia Hypothesis, he says, “we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions.”
We certainly experience these “splendors” outdoors, but according to biophilia experts
Judith Heerwagen and Stephen Kellert, we can feel the tug of nature within our buildings as well. Biophilic components installed within the interior are both literal (trees, water, vegetation) and symbolic (use of ornamentation, décor and materials with natural themes).
Take, for example, the new USGBC headquarter offices in the urban center of Washington, DC where views from the space are of neighboring buildings, not trees and grass. Architect Ken Wilson and Heerwagen collaborated at the request of the client to incorporate nature-based elements. They begin at the entrance with walls clad in gumwood timbers reclaimed from the bottom of the Tennessee River. A water feature installed on the two-story stair wall adds soothing sensory experiences. Photographs of imagery taken from nature – clouds, leaves, wood grains – are mounted on the cubicle walls to add color and sensory variation to break the monotony of a sea of workstations. Both small and large potted plants are scattered throughout. An often-unidentified biophilic element, distance viewing especially to the outdoors, is carefully incorporated. Heerwagen maintains that it will reduce stress and increase creativity and high quality cognitive work.
Quoting Aristotle, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” It seems that the human /nature connection can be quite marvelous too.
Interior design by Envision; photography by Eric Laignel