Biophilia regards human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. It’s a subject that has evolved with human evolution; it explains why we are attracted to nature. So biophilic designers had to design principles that we can use to improve the human connection to nature in buildings of all types.
It comprises three different aspects. Firstly, it involves a direct connection with nature, so that’s about how we improve our connection with tangible, sensory forms of nature, elements like plants, trees, natural light, fresh air, water and subtle changes that we see throughout the seasons.
Secondly, it’s about what we call the indirect references to nature or natural analogues. This is how we mimic nature in buildings using natural materials, colours, textures, patterns and technologies.
Lastly, it’s about human spatial response and human’s reactions to direct and indirect references to nature as a means to create spaces that are aspirational, energising, exciting and stimulating. Or, by contrast, calming, restorative and recuperative; of course, we need both of these things to create successful buildings.
It’s worth mentioning that the intention of biophilic design is about reducing stress and aiding recuperation, and through doing that and recognising the impact that stress has, we can cut cost in buildings – things like absenteeism and presenteeism – and also improve outcomes, such as productivity and creativity; but also a sense of community. So, I think it’s important to keep those ideas in mind. Of course, these ideas, the three core principles – the direct, indirect and human spatial response – have been broken down into what’s been called the 14 patterns of biophilic design, which are different features within biophilic design that can be used to create stimulating and energising spaces or recuperative spaces. The point is not to necessarily use all 14 patterns in any one space, but to understand what it is that you want to be creating in the mood and the atmosphere of the space and how you want people to relate to it.
Biophilic design in hotels
There are opportunities to bring in plants and nature and water features into spaces, particularly in hotel lobbies, to improve connections with natural light and fresh air, but, of course, in a hotel room, what you might want to do is to create something quite different. It may be that you want to create a much more recuperative sense of space within a hotel room, so that might be about having views out of windows, connecting people with natural light, using materials that are reflective of nature on the floors and the walls and incorporating plants and greenery, which is a rare thing in a hotel.
Lighting plays a key role – both in the natural lighting and our exposure to it but also in artificial lighting. One thing we are seeing is the introduction of circadian lighting systems which are colour-changing LEDs that subtly change colour temperature throughout the day. They don’t necessarily turn off completely at night but what they do is remove the stimulating, energising blue spectrum of light that makes us feel so alert in the middle of the day. This blue spectrum of light is emitted from traditional lightbulbs. Hotels don’t tend to do it but in my home I have a colour-changing bulb next to my bed, so I get used to having dusk-like orange colours before I go to sleep – so when I stay in a hotel it really upsets me because all the bulbs are stimulating LED bulbs which are very bright and glaring in the colour spectrum. It really affects my ability to go to sleep and for me that’s a really big issue because I do a lot of travelling and I’m often in hotels for just one night and to be affected by the stimulating blue light, I end up sleeping very badly.
The problem is, fundamentally, design is often used as a means to express a message and that message is often a sense of wealth, luxury, power, money or intelligence. I think what’s much more important as design professionals is that we use our knowledge, skills and experiences to turn that around to create a more intrinsic approach to say well, what would happen if everything we designed in a hotel room was designed, installed and specified to really make the guest feel as good as possible; to soothe their agitated state, to stop them feeling disorientated, to give them a good night’s rest and to provide them with sensory boundaries to create a more mindful set of spaces. It’s really about turning the whole profession around saying what is the point of design – should it be about telling people you are staying in the most expensive hotel or is it about making people feel good? For me and our design practice, we are very much focused on a human-centred approach that delivers greater wellbeing which makes total sense in the hospitality world.
A lot of our work at the moment is about creating different design strategies on how you would implement biophilic design into different buildings. What we are doing at the moment is exploring how we can apply biophilic design in lots of different ways. You could say, you could do it for free. We all have a personal responsibility for our health and wellbeing, and making sure you get outside, you get natural light, you go to the park, you have a walk, is all an important part of reconnecting with nature.
Of course, there are very simple things you can do, like adding plants to desks and flowers, making sure you’re conscious of the natural light in a building. Then there are medium-scale cost components you can incorporate – integrating natural materials on the floors and walls and introducing colours that we know impact on our wellbeing.
Introducing artificial forms of nature has been proven to have some psychological benefits, whether that’s pictures on walls or artificial plants, there’s lots and lots you can do, even at a midscale. And then, of course, you’ve got the pricier aspects that people know about, things like green walls, water features, green planted spaces in reception areas, rooftop gardens and bars and circadian lighting systems. It’s really down to design approach for a whole space rather than thinking about money. And, the other thing to think about when you’re discussing budget is to question if you’re really talking about the short-term costs or about the longer-term costs because, actually, what is clear from research is when natural features are applied into buildings then it starts to attract more people and the room rates can increase receiving more exposure on social media. A really good example of this is the PARKROYAL on Pickering hotel in Singapore; it was designed as what we call a hotel in a garden, although, of course, it is the middle of a city. Now, what they found is the room rate is now more than double what they originally projected – because of demand, they kept raising the rate and people kept coming, so they just raised it more.
There have been some studies in the hospitality world, one piece of research from Nashville, Tennessee, demonstrated that hotel guest reserve rooms with garden views more quickly and are prepared to pay 20% more than traditional rooms.
A study undertaken by Interface showed that guests were prepared to pay 18% premium with a room with a view onto water. So, incorporating natural features is very important. One thing we are seeing is hotels starting to remove car parks at the back of the building and turning them into garden spaces, which if you think about it the cost structure of a hotel is already incorporated into a little bit of biophilic thinking – you know you’re going to pay more for a room overlooking the best possible view, whether that’s the beach, the forest or the mountains as to looking at the car park at the back. So if you can turn that parking space into a lush green space, you can raise the room rate.