Sourced from The Independent
Nature is good for our mental wellbeing, numerous scientific studies tell us. This flood of research begins in 1984 with EO Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, in which he hypothesises a gene that necessities our love of life and life-like processes. However, a genetic basis for biophilia has not been identified, and the value of a genetic argument for our attraction to nature has been questioned.
More recently, theorists have broadened the definition of biophilia to encompass the benefits of human-nature interaction. And it seems governments and industries are listening. Cities everywhere are embracing the change.
I’ve spoken to numerous city dwellers over the years who tell me they find nature unsettling, if not terrifying. It’s mainly the isolation and silence they find overwhelming, particularly if they have spent their life in densely populated cities such as New York or Hong Kong. This sensation is captured by the term biophobia, a fear of nature.
While biophilia theorists acknowledge biophobia, it is rare to find this reflected in the work of biophilic designers whose work risks downplaying the complex ways in which we experience nature. After all, the feel-good message of biophilia is an easy sell. But if we can both love and fear nature we should ask ourselves: what is the source of these powerful emotional responses? And is the introduction of biota and abiota the only way we can elicit such experiences?
Art and nature
The philosopher Henri Lefebvre called the city a “second nature”. Given that every aspect of our cities, including ourselves, originated in what we refer to as nature, this makes perfect sense. More obscurely, Lefebvre writes that in the creation of second nature we should produce “urban space, both as a product and as a work, in the sense in which art created works”.
To understand this we must consider the question: how does art make works? We might say that every artwork is unique in its making – no two artworks (assuming we don’t consider reproductions to be artworks) are the same. Similarly, nature’s creations are distinct: no two snowflakes are the same, every dawn is different etc.