How street furniture facilitates biophilic design

How street furniture facilitates biophilic design

Biophilic design and harnessing street furniture to achieve it: 

One of the key design trends of 2023 so far has been the incorporation of nature into both interior and exterior design, also referred to as biophilic design. Biophilic design at its core is about bringing humanity closer to nature in our everyday environments, intertwining our worlds, and providing all the benefits nature bestows. This trend has been ever-growing since the term and concept was introduced by E.O Wilson in his book Biophilia in 1984, and in recent years this trend has exploded. It’s not hard to understand why this, movement of sorts, has exponentially grown in the time since the 80’s as more and more of modern life has moved online.

As social, economic, and business practices have all gradually been consumed by the ever-forward lumbering beast that is the internet, the world’s population has receded indoors. It’s estimated that on average we spend around 90% of our time indoors, whether that’s at work or at home, that’s 22 hours every day! Entertainment, shopping, social media, work, banking, and household management, it’s all now handled online providing some with very few reasons to venture outdoors. As creatures of habit, this issue becomes compounded by the acceptance of this way of living and its induction into the status quo.

It is this status quo that has seemingly led us to the worst rates of mental health issues in recorded history, with 1 in 8 people worldwide living with a mental disorder in 2019, according to WHO data. This is a very concerning statistic as it’s not as though modern life is harder than it was 50 years ago when mental health concerns were much less pronounced than they are today. Surely, the issue resides in the way we live and the environment we choose for ourselves.

Biophilic design to cure what ails

Biophilic design and its principles have always been centred around the human connection with nature and the importance of preserving it as a feature of our lifestyles. E.O Wilson himself described biophilia as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms”. This quote rings true almost universally, as at one time or another we’ve all experienced that feeling of belonging, inner calm, and oneness with nature, when out on a ramble or walking along a river one sunny morning. It’s something that’s so true that previously it didn’t bear repeating and due to its lack of repetition, it seemed to have been forgotten from the human consciousness almost completely. That is until this resurgence of nature-inclusive design.

It has almost appeared as though it were a societal-level revealed preference or a true north that we’ve realigned with. The effects of biophilic design and green spaces are well documented as to their impact on mental health, the alleviation of stress and anxiety, and their general calming impact. This reduction in stress and anxiety inevitably leads to increased productivity, which is great for businesses, and why the rate of adoption of biophilic design is being seen more prevalently in the private sector.

The principles of biophilic design

Biophilic design’s philosophy encompasses two main principles: direct interactions with nature and indirect interactions with nature.

Direct interactions with nature

Direct interaction with nature is about incorporating real nature into the space or including a habitable area within pre-existing nature itself. This can be achieved by building structures or features that accommodate, encourage, and exist in synchronicity with the landscape. This includes landscape features like rivers, streams, trees, and marshes. It’s often not necessary to alter them and much more beneficial to view them as instrumental to the potential of a design. After all, there is no better inspiration than nature itself.

The other side of the coin is the inclusion of new nature into a space whether these are vines, living walls, green roofs, shrubbery, flowers, or trees. They can be weaved in seamlessly to enhance and achieve a natural look.

The effects that both these implementations have are multisensory, affecting the inhabitants visually, haptically, and even their sense of smell. They are all vital in bringing biophilic design to life.

Indirect interactions with nature

Indirect interactions with nature are achieved through the use of naturally occurring shapes, patterns, colours, and their implementation. As creatures that are highly attuned to patterns, it’s very easy for us to discern the natural from the manmade, so the addition of naturally occurring shapes and formations helps heighten the natural aspect of a design. This includes their utilisation across a design e.g., in the general layouts of an area, the furniture within them, images on walls, and even flooring.

The simulation of nature can even extend to the materials used, as often wood or stone is a preferable choice over steel or plastic. Then there is the issue of lighting as a more natural, softer form of lighting through increasing exposure to the sunlight is much more in tune with biophilic design principles than fluorescent bulbs.

Biophilic design’s green credentials

When materials are sourced responsibly the use of biophilic design boasts sterling green credentials as almost every aspect of its implementation promotes nature in a sustainable way while offering many benefits. The inclusion of plant life and natural substrates indoors and outdoors helps draw contaminants and impurities out of the air while reducing surrounding temperatures naturally, and that applies to both internal and external spaces. The addition of features like a living roof or walls also promotes biodiversity and reduces the impact of stormwater runoff.

How street furniture facilitates biophilic design

For outdoor spaces, carefully selected street furniture is an excellent way of achieving biophilic design. Especially when designed with sustainability in mind they can effectively facilitate the inclusion of nature in attractive social hub layouts. With planters incorporated into the design and layout, that natural greenery can really shine through.

The street furniture itself can be designed to mimic natural formations and blend seamlessly into any setting. With materials like wood or natural stone and their various treatments, there are an infinite number of options to suit the surrounding area. This also includes pergolas and trellises with the use of a frame system that can be filled by climbing plants and flowers.

Through the clever use of street furniture, a comfortable social area can be organically woven into a green biophilic space. By embracing more natural materials and shapes the inhabitants of these spaces can be spared from the jarring effects of cookie-cutter furniture. They won’t have to worry about becoming detached from the oasis they’ve been daydreaming in for a quiet and comfortable while.

Biophilic design street furniture Chapter House, Parker Street, London

Our installation at Chapter House, Parker Street, London, demonstrates how street furniture facilitates and supports biophilic designs. It features planters at varying heights to offset the planted flora and creates a sense of verticality to prevent the space from looking uniform and manufactured. The use of natural colours on display harnesses deep browns complementing the green of the plants. The natural elements of the installation help soften the impact of the surrounding brickwork and tiling, injecting a vital touch of biophilic design.