While the concept has been around for decades, many people have never heard the term biophilic. What does it mean? Literally, the term itself means “love of life.” It goes a little deeper than that, however. Biophilia is generally explained as the human desire to interact with nature, and biophilic design is the recognition of how human mental and physical well-being is positively influenced by our relationship with the natural world.
In architecture, biophilic design refers to the practice of incorporating natural elements into the built environment. Centuries before the term was coined, architects had an innate understanding that we function better when our man-made structures incorporate natural elements. That’s why, throughout history, many buildings were constructed with courtyards, gardens and fountains — restorative elements that give our eyes and busy minds a bit of a respite.
Does biophilic design make us feel good, or does it actually do measurable good? The benefits go beyond simply making us feel rested. Many studies have shown positive benefits that derive from biophilic design. Natural elements lower our stress, which helps us focus on the task at hand. They restore our mental energy. They enhance creativity. And in educational settings, biophilic design has been linked to increases in academic performance.
Because students spend a significant amount of their time in school, shouldn’t their school building and classrooms be designed as calm spaces in which creativity and learning flourish? How should school districts, principals and teachers go about it? Biophilic design is not difficult to understand or put into practice, and while some suggestions are more structural and better undertaken during the school construction process, many ideas can be easily incorporated into any classroom.
The attached infographic, Biophilic Design in Education, provides a brief overview of this topic. It defines biophilic design, presents the results of studies showing the benefits in educational settings, and offers several simple ways to incorporate biophilic design into schools and classrooms.
The main takeaway is that biophilic design goes beyond merely adding plants to the classroom. It encompasses (1) the direct addition of natural elements, such as plants and natural light; (2) the use of natural materials, shapes, patterns and images of nature; and (3) the idea of creating smaller spaces as places of refuge from the larger environment, as exist in nature.
The infographic presents specific ways in which we can bring nature into classrooms. These include providing natural lighting with views of the outside; adding natural wood structures and furniture; decorating with wall hangings, rugs and panels that have pictures, colors and textures that evoke nature; and using colors that are calming and mimic the sky, sun and grass. Aren’t our children’s futures worth these relatively minor investments in time and money?