On the Roof With...Experts On Biophilic Design

Sourced from the Living Architecture Monitor

Biophilic Design continues to emerge as an important body of practice which is increasingly shaping the way in which we design buildings and communities. Three experts share their views on a wide range of topics which hold the promise of delivering much healthier and more sustainable buildings and communities. Judith Heerwagen (JH) is an environmental psychologist; Timothy Beatley (TB) is chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia; and James D. Brown (JB) is the Director of Research, The Biophilic Cities Project.

1. What does the biophilia hypothesis mean to you? 

Judith Herwaagen (JH): Like all hypotheses, it means that the proposed benefits of biophilia can be rigorously tested using valid scientific methods. In the years since The Biophilia Hypothesis (S.R. Kellert and E.O. Wilson, Eds) was published in 1993, hundreds of studies have validated the health, well being, and performance benefits associated with being in biophilic rich environments. The benefits have been found in a diverse array of settings and for a wide range of design approaches including window views, gardens, flowers, trees, daylight, outdoor greenspace, water features, and green roofs. James D. Brown (JB): The biophilic hypothesis identifies that we, as humans, require daily interactions with nature to allow us to have healthy, happy and productive lives. For Biophilic Cities, this means embracing this challenge not just at an individual or site level but at the scale of planning and designing cities. Increasing global urbanization provides a tremendous opportunity to cultivate nature in close proximity to a rapidly growing portion of the world’s population. 

Tim Beatley (TB): Biophilia is an essential insight into what it means to be human, especially in the age of cities. Contact with nature is not something optional, but absolutely essential to meaningful urban lives. In an era where the environmental news is discouraging, biophilia is a highly hopeful and optimistic idea--we can design and plan in ways that connect us with nature on a daily or hourly basis, something that we know produces profound benefits and likely even helps us to be better human beings (the evidence suggests, for instance, that we are more likely to be generous and cooperative in the presence of nature). Biophilia suggests the potential to deepen and enrich our lives through the natural world, and to add important layers of meaning to the cities in which we live.

2. What is the most important development in the emerging field of biophilic design and why?

JH: I think the most important development is the emerging discussion around bigger themes and issues that biophilia should address in the future. For instance, how can biophilic design support human health and resilience within the larger context of climate change? How can it be
deployed more equitably across urban settings? And how can biophilic design strategies – such as biophilic urban acupuncture - be used to enhance both human and environmental health? These questions go to the heart of human existence on the planet we call home.

JB: The increasing emphasis on moving from a focus on the single building site to that site’s connection to larger surrounding community and landscape. Natural systems depend on connectivity and continuity across the landscape. As users of these same places, humans
and non-humans alike need to be able to move across cities without experiencing a pronounced disconnect with the natural world.

TB: Biophilic design has made great progress in recent years at the building scale. I believe we need to continue to expand and extend this work to embrace a “whole of city” approach; one that understands that nature can and must be included at every spatial scale, and in every space, in cities--this is the vision of biophilic cities that we have been trying to promote, largely through the global Biophilic Cities Network. It is an immersive view of biophilic design: nature
is not just to be found in designated places, such as a park or a community garden or urban forest, but rather is all around us in cities. It is the idea that we could be living in urban neighborhoods where we are immersed in the sights and sounds and experiences of the natural world. Equally important is the need to ensure a Just Biophilia- -where everyone and every neighborhood benefits from nature, and where investments in nature do not displace or economically harm existing residents.

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