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With biophilic design, nature comes indoors

by BDigital_Admin
St Oswald's hospice showing biophilic design

Otis Murdoch explores the different methods for integrating nature into any construction or refurbishment project to bring elements of the outdoors inside, benefiting our well-being

Natural spaces in our cities and urban environments are an underused answer to many societal challenges we face.

Worsening mental health, poor air quality, and limited recreational spaces are issues city-goers face every day, and the pressures on everyday life caused by these problems can no longer be ignored.

The built environment has a major influence on the urban quality of life. When views out of buildings showcase natural landscapes, plants are extracting carbon from the air, and green spaces are accessible to all, then people begin to feel better connected to their environment.

In answer to this growing responsibility, architecture projects are considering the integration of nature much more than they have done in previous years.

Balancing buildings and nature

There are three distinct theoretical strands to how we can incorporate nature into architecture: Biophilia, biomorphism, and biomimicry.

  • Biophilic design integrates and connects us directly to natural phenomena and environment
  • Biomorphic design evokes nature by drawing inspiration from nature
  • Biomimicry in design works like nature – mimicking lessons from nature

Although this range of design approaches offers a wide scope of ways that nature can be considered in design – we have seen examples across the world of environments and structures that heavily emulate natural forms – there is a balance to be struck within architectural design.

Where there are multiple overt references to natural forms, there is a risk that people can begin to feel alienated and the design can overwhelm the purpose of the space. We find that subtle integrations that create delight and excitement are most successful.

As architects we are able to work with our clients to develop the best possible version of a space or place, within the resources available, often challenging preconceived ideas. The influence and integration of nature can help us to achieve the best results, reaching a beautiful alignment between the natural and built environment.

Connecting humans and environment

Some architectural innovations become iconic of their decade as achievements in biophilic and biomorphic design.

The Barbican Centre in London is a landmark example of these principles in use. Built as part of the Brutalist movement in the 1970s, the Barbican is exemplary of biophilic design in an urban setting.

In contrast with its striking concrete exterior, the interior of the Barbican features lakes, ponds, flora, and its famous conservatory. The latter is home to exotic fish and over 1,500 species of plants, that bring the residents the benefits of being close to nature and wildlife without leaving central London.

While it is inspiring to look to iconic examples of biophilic design principles in use, striking integration of nature into the built environment is not reserved for once-in-a-lifetime briefs.

The Old Post Office, Newcastle upon Tyne

The £1.8m refurbishment and redevelopment of the Old Post Office on St Nicholas Street in the centre of Newcastle is an award-winning example of a modern workspace that brings its workers close to nature.

Working on behalf of RIBA Enterprises, the design created workspace for over 200 staff brought together across two main floors. The office interior was designed to include spaces for indoor plants next to workstations to bring nature indoors and improve air quality.

The site also features an enclosed rooftop garden terrace, surround by floor to ceiling glass doors that integrate nature and light into the workspace whilst also offering staff a green space to enjoy without having to leave the heart of the city.

St Oswald’s Hospice, Newcastle upon Tyne

As part of a long-standing relationship with St Oswald’s Hospice, JDDK’s team has developed a large-scale hospice over decades that deeply resonates with the humane small scale.

Outward looking and spacious vistas help offer positive mental benefits to residents from private rooms, while enclosed courtyards provide views of luxuriant planting, and let natural light flood into the heart of the building, reinforcing our connections with nature, whilst offering a space for contemplation, relaxation and time with family shared experiences within nature.

These spaces are designed to ensure advanced and challenging healthcare standards are met, whilst maximising patients’ enjoyment for day-to-day life to make for a highly uplifting space for the healthcare team to deliver excellence.

Particular attention is given to patients having access to outside space even while in bed they can spend time with their families outdoors and feel the breeze and sunlight.

Bringing nature into your project

If you are planning for a construction project that is set within an urban space, you may be looking to understand how its design can make it stand out as an addition to the city that improves the well-being of those who use and surround it.

The natural world can be incorporated into any project, and for your development it represents a long-term commitment to sustainability and the local community. As Biodiversity Net Gain regulations have come into play, these considerations will also contribute to meeting these legislative requirements.

There doesn’t need to be a financial burden with this approach – integrating nature into a build can be as simple as taking better consideration of where windows go, or using a biomorphically shaped reception desk that sets the tone for guests on entry.

The key to success is having a conversation in the early stages of the process. We like to start off with blue sky thinking and get everyone outside of the box and looking to broader possibilities.

Being ambitious in our joined approach to new developments would help us take small steps towards better urban life and shape our towns and cities into the type of spaces we hope our future selves and generations will enjoy.

The built environment influences our identities as individuals and as communities, and making the right decisions now can lead to invaluable psychological, physical and environmental benefits in years to come.

Otis Murdoch is an architect at JDDK Architects

Main image: St Oswald’s hospice showing biophilic design

Read next: More architects using digital tools to assess projects

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