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    Why biophilic architecture works: five reasons and case studies

    Nathan Johnson

    Incorporating plants in your building’s envelope can increase its overall thermal performance, while designing green interior spaces will make your inhabitants happier and healthier. These are some of the claims coming from recent studies on biophilic architecture.  

    The benefits of green walls and roofs on a building’s energy performance are well documented; one study from the Australian Government Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation concluded that the differences between the temperature of the underside of steel roof sheeting (uninsulated) and a green roof can range from 10.2°C in winter to 20.5°C in summer.

    The same study concluded that daily minimum temperatures were 3 to 5°C higher than those of the control roofs, indicating that green roofs also lead to better thermal mass performance.

    Another Australian study from a University of Queensland School of Psychology professor concludes that an office enriched with plants makes staff happier and boosts productivity by 15 per cent.

    Biophilic architecture, which contends that human health and well-being has a biologically based need to affiliate with nature through built form, also helps the sick get better quicker and encourages office workers to take less sick days, say some researchers from the United States.

    As one Architecture & Design reader puts it:

    “Biophilic design is a fascinating field because it has shown through research in evolutionary biology, environmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, social ecology, urban planning, and biological anthropology that our physiology has been shaped throughout millennia by the geography, climate, and seasonal rhythms of the natural environment.”

    Here are five case studies where biophilic design has made a positive impact on the inhabitants of the environment:

    HEALTH


    The Royal Children's Hospital by Bates Smart included biophilic design throughout the building including a large-scale atrium aquarium. Image: John Gollings.

    In 1984, Roger Ulrich pioneered a seminal study to measure the influence of natural and urban sceneries on patients recovering from gallbladder surgery.

    From his study, he determined that those patients whose windows overlooked a scene of nature were released after 7.96 days compared with 8.71 days for those patients whose views were of the hospital’s exterior walls.

    Ulrich also found that patients who were recovering from gall bladder surgery resulted in hospital stays that were 8.5 per cent shorter if they had a view to nature.

    A similar study in 1996 by Beauchemin and Hays showed the effect of bipohilia and natural lighting on patients with bipolar disorder and depression. It concluded that those staying in naturally day lit units were released after an average of 16.7 days, while patients in dully lit rooms stayed an average of 19.5 days; this was an average length of 2.6 days more for patients lacking access to natural light. 


    OFFICE


    Woods Bagot incorporated biophilia into their design of 700 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Image: Trevor Mein.

    A case study of an administrative office building at the University of Oregon indicates that biophilic architecture directly affects the rate of absenteeism for office workers, in this case by 10 per cent. 

    The University of Oregon building that was studied included:

    • 30% of offices that overlook trees and a manicured landscape to the north and west
    • 31% that overlook a street, building and parking lot to the south and east
    • 39% of the offices are within the building, offering no outside view at all

    Employees with the views of trees and landscape took an average of 57 hours of sick leave per year, compared with 68 hours per year of sick leave taken by employees with no view. Those with an urban view were midway on the continuum.

    The study also monitored the workers’ break patterns and found that those with landscape views sat at their desks for longer while those with no view took exterior walks and longer breaks.


    PUBLIC

    The New York Highline is one of the more famous examples of biophilic architecture. Designed by James Corner Field Operations, the High Line is a 1.45-miles long reconverted train line, with one mile currently open to visitors.

    There are more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees on the High Line.

    More than four million people visit each year, making it one of the city’s most visited public parks per acre and one of the most successful examples of biophilic architecture.

    Biophilic architecture in public spaces can also help to lower urban air temperatures and ameliorate urban heat island effects, which occur when generated heat is absorbed by the buildings, pavements and vehicles in cities.


    RESIDENTIAL

    Biophilic architecture also adds an aesthetic element. ‘Site specific’ architects and ‘organic architects’ have been practicing biophilic architecture for centuries.

    Peter Muller’s ‘Muller House’ (top) was built around native angophora gums and natural bolders, while Peter Stutchbury’s ‘West Head House’ was literally built in the trees.  

     


    COMMUNITY

    M Central is a 3,000sqm rooftop ‘parkland’ landscape for the residential redevelopment of the Goldsborough Mort Woolstores, Pyrmont.

    Unique in scale in Sydney’s CBD, the rooftop is a vibrant communal recreation space that didn’t exist in the building before.  Up to a quarter of M Central’s 400 residents use the landscape every day.

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