The true value of biophilic design – all too often dismissed by developers and cost-cutting quantity surveyors - was a hot topic at the Sustainability Summit 2023 in Sydney.
A big part of the issue, argued proponents in a biophilic design panel, is a broad lack of understanding about what biophilic design is, and the benefits it can bring.
Julieta Loya, regional sustainability consultant at Woods Bagot, says biophilic design is not, as some believe, “just adding plants to things”.
“That is one part of it, but it’s much more than that,” she says.
“Biophilic design is a sensorial experience, thinking about what a place feels like, smells like, looks like and how people experience that.
“It’s connecting people to nature and culture in direct and indirect ways. Plants are one of the direct ways, so is water,” Loya says.
She says cost and maintenance is frequently raised as an issue by developers or government when presented with a biophilic design proposal.
As she says, “Funding is either a blocker or an enabler”.
Miranda Snowdon, Associate – Sustainability at Arup, says green infrastructure valuation in Australia needs a “radical rethink”.
“Our current economic model and approach undervalues (it) because we are obsessed with putting a dollar value on the benefit,” Snowdon says.
“We’ve got to get beyond that and get more creative in figuring out the true value.
“In Singapore they know developments that have more green infrastructure and better greenery command a higher value – it does pay for itself.”
Snowdon says Singapore is an exemplary case study of how good policy settings can accelerate uptake of biophilic design.
“The Singapore government set a strong policy 10 years ago and they’ve really seen the benefits of that,” says Snowdon.
“They started out as garden city and now they can see themselves as a city within a garden.
“I truly believe they have achieved that, and it shows what could happen when the challenges and hurdles are overcome in Australia.”
Loya says a goal is to change the dynamic by “practicing deep biophilic design”.
That way it’s embedded in the project and “doesn’t get value engineered out as easily as it currently does.
“It’s just not nice to have, it’s part of what makes that project work.”
By Martin Kelly
Image: Miranda Snowdon (left) and Julieta Loya (right)