Our wellbeing vision through biophilic design

Guest blog by Helen O’Reilly, Associate, Bond Bryan

Our world is rapidly changing and adapting, never more relevant than during the current global pandemic. As we consider options to return to public spaces, it is paramount for us to incorporate people's health and wellbeing as ultimate design drivers. This is a critical time and opportunity to integrate our built environment into the power of nature, inducing a sense of calm for people within our buildings. In recent months, our lives have been forced to slow down and many of us have reconnected to community and nature – in our gardens, streetscapes, and homes. We have reconnected with our own love of life; taken time to pause in the moment and reconnect ourselves back to nature.

Bond Bryan have been working very closely with Ian Chadwick, Director at Wellbeing Places, designing a number of wellbeing schemes. These are of various sizes, in different regions and contexts - using biophilic design as a key element of our vision, we always design with the end-users’ needs first and foremost.

Biophilia is our innate connection to nature, on a human level, that is vital to maintaining good physical and mental health, and wellbeing. It’s about bringing people into close and frequent contact with nature and nurturing a love of place. Our vision is people first, always! We create places which contribute positively to whole communities, by enhancing local assets, inspiration, and potential of spaces. Our purpose is to create new spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and wellbeing – whilst also acting to reduce social isolation and loneliness.

Strategic design principles – three pillars

Our design philosophy is built upon three simple strategic pillars:

  1. Physical Place
    • Provision of built environments that are safe and warm, a fundamental principle of wellbeing
    • Free from hazards, safe from harm, promoting a sense of security
    • Exceptional public realm offering a tranquil environment
    • Meeting the needs of people with complex or severe needs, including the rising number of older people – encouraging them to maintain good health and independence for longer
    • Establishment of intergenerational relationships through mixed housing, work and social spaces
  2. Emotional Place
    • Engender a sense of belonging and connection
    • To build relationships and integrate with neighbours, the village community and wider community beyond
    • Encourage reciprocity of neighbours and their families across all ages
    • Create an integrated and diverse community that naturally supports each other
    • Enable people to manage their health and care needs
    • Allow people to remain in their own home for as long as they choose
  3. Digital Place
    • Creates an enhanced network – a digital grid – that reduces the need to travel
    • Allows good quality access
    • Encourages and grows digital literacy
    • Uses digital tools to increase people’s activity
    • Offers a voice, enhancing community engagement
    • Provides areas in which residents find places of tranquillity free from digital connectivity

Our response to biophilic design

When we incorporate biophilic design into our buildings, we engage our senses. Biophilic design has profound benefits to engaging our senses and supporting emotional wellbeing: reducing stress levels, increasing kindness, improving learner engagement, and increasing social connectivity. Our aim is to simultaneously improve the quality of wellbeing for the individuals and wider local communities whilst enhancing social, economic and environmental sustainability. We design with the intrinsic human need to affiliate with nature.

Create cultural ties

  • use of sustainable and local materials
  • use of natural products to demonstrate the power of nature

Complexity and order

  • creation of knowledge-rich, complex, whilst understandable spaces
  • spatial variability
  • hierarchies
  • legibility and wayfinding
  • reduced perceptual and physiological stress responses
  • preferable views
  • sense of logic and improved cognitive understanding

Biomorphic forms and patterns

  • representations of natural textures and forms
  • sense of respect and loyalty toward nature
  • ownership connection with nature
  • enhanced perception of surroundings
  • positive emotional response

Negative and emotional simulation, prospect and refuge

  • obscured views and senses
  • hidden spaces and changes in order
  • reduced stress, heart rate and blood pressure
  • increased tranquillity
  • memory restoration
  • enhanced responsiveness

Visual connections with nature

  • awareness of seasonal and eco changes
  • reduced stress, heart rate and blood pressure
  • increased tranquillity
  • memory restoration
  • enhanced responsiveness

Interaction with nature

  • threat combined with an area of safeguard and refuge
  • strong adrenaline and pleasure responses

Dynamic and light diffusion

  • light and shadow representing natural surroundings
  • natural daylight simulation
  • improved comfort
  • improved productivity
  • improved concentration
  • improved spatial and temporal pleasure

Enhance knowledge of natural processes

  • enhanced awareness of natural processes through making these visual and interactive
  • weathering of materials and signage
  • enhanced knowledge and respect for nature
  • reduced stress and systolic blood pressure
  • improved cognitive performance
  • increased cognitive performance
  • increased tranquillity

Utilising nature as a form of substance

  • viewing areas to enable surveillance, helping ensure safety
  • creates temporary increase of heart rate
  • strong response to place
  • satisfaction of wayfinding
  • exploratory new findings

Thermal and airflow variability

  • sensory interaction with nature
  • emphasis of touch and smell in design
  • integration with living systems and organisms
  • reduction in diastolic blood pressure
  • improved creativity
  • improved mental comfort

Design patterns and biological responses

The table below demonstrates how good design can reduce stress, increase cognitive performance, emotion and mood enhancement within us.

Nature in the space
14 patterns * Stress reduction Cognitive performance Emotion, mood and preference
Visual connection with nature *** Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
(Brown, Barton, and Gladwell, 2013; van den Berg, Hartig & Staats, 2007; Tsunetsugu & Miyazaki, 2005)
Improved mental engagement/attentiveness
(Biederman & Vessel, 2006)
Positively impacted attitude and overall happiness
(Barton & Pretty, 2010)
Non-visual connection with nature ** Reduced systolic blood pressure and stress hormones
(Park, Tsunetsugu, Kasetani et al., 2009; Hartig, Evans, Jamner et al., 2003; Orsega-Smith, Mowen, Payne et al., 2004; Ulrich, Simons, Losito et al., 1991)
Positively impacted cognitive performance
(Mehta, Zhu & Cheema, 2012; Ljungberg, Neely, & Lundström, 2004)
Perceived improvements in mental health and tranquility
(Li, Kobayashi, Inagaki et al., 2012; Jahncke, et al., 2011; Tsunetsugu, Park & Miyazaki, 2010; Kim, Ren, & Fielding, 2007; Stigsdotter & Grahn, 2003
Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli ** Positively impacted heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and sympathetic nervous system activity
(Li, 2009; Park et al., 2008; Kahn et al., 2008; Beauchamp et al., 2003; Ulrich et al., 1991)
Observed and quantified behavioural measures of attention and exploration
(Windhager et al., 2011)
Thermal and airflow variability ** Positively impacted comfort, well-being and productivity
(Heerwagen, 2006; Tham & Willem, 2005; Wigö, 2005)
Positively impacted concentration
(Hartig et al., 2003; Hartig et al., 1991; R. Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989)
Improved perception of spacial and temporal pleasure (allesthesia)
(Parkinson, de Dear & Candido, 2012; Zhang, Arens, Huizenga & Han, 2010; Arens, Zhang & Huizenga, 2006; Zhang, 2003; de Dear & Brager, 2002; Heschong, 1979)
Presence of water ** Reduced stress, increased feelings of tranquility, lower heart rate and blood pressure
(Alvarsson, Wiens, & Nilsson, 2010; Pheasant, Fisher, Watts et al., 2010; Biederman & Vessel, 2006)
Improved concentration and memory restoration
Alvarsson et al., 2010; Biderman & Vessel, 2006)
Enhanced perception and psychological awareness
(Alvarsson et al., 2010; Hunter et al., 2010)
Observed preferences and positive emotional responses
(WIndhager, 2011; Barton & Pretty, 2010; White, Smith, Humphryes et al., 2010; Karmenov & Hamel, 2008; Biederman & Vessel, 2006; Heerwagen & Orians, 1993; Ruso & Atzwanger, 2003; Ulrich, 1983)
Dynamic and diffuse light ** Positively impacted circadian system functioning
(Figueiro, Brons, Plitnick et al., 2011; Beckett & Roden, 2009)
Increased visual comfort
(Elyezadi, 2012; Kim & Kim, 2007)
Connection with natural systems       Enhanced positive health responses; shifted perception of environment
(Kellert et al., 2008)
Natural analogues
Biomorphic forms and patterns *     Observed view preference
(Vessel, 2012; Joye, 2007)
Material connection with nature     Decreased diastolic blood pressure
(Tsunetsugu, Miyazaki & Sato, 2007)
Improved creative performance
(Lichtenfield et al., 2012)
Improved comfort
(Tsunetsugu, Miyazaki & Sato, 2007)
Complexity and order ** Positively impacted perceptual and physiological stress responses
(Salingaros, 2012; Joye, 2007; Taylor, 2006; S. Kaplan, 1988)
  Observed view preference
(Salingaros, 2012; Hägerhäll, Laike, Taylor et al., 2008; Hägerhäll, Purcell, & Taylor, 2004; Taylor, 2006)
Nature of the space
Prospect *** Reduced stress
(Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2010)
Reduced boredom, irritation, fatigue
(Clearwater & Coss, 1991)
Improved comfort and safety
(Herzog & Bryce, 2007; Wang & Taylor, 2006; Petherick, 2000)
Refuge ***   Improved concentration, attention, and perception of safety
(Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2010; Wang & Taylor 2006; Petherick, 2000; Ulrich et al., 1993)
Mystery **     Induced strong pleasure response
(Biederman, 2011; Salimpoor, Benovoy, Larcher et al., 2011; Ikemi, 2005; Blood & Zatorre, 2001)
Risk/Peril *     Resulted in strong dopamine or pleasure responses
(Kohno et al., 2013; Wang & Tsien, 2011; Zald et al., 2008)

Nature in indoor spaces encompasses biophilic design patterns:

  1. Visual connection with nature. A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.
  2. Non-visual connection with nature. Auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
  3. Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli. Stochastic and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
  4. Thermal and airflow variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.
  5. Presence of water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.
  6. Dynamic and diffuse light. Leverages varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.
  7. Connection with natural systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes, characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.
  8. Biomorphic forms and patterns. Symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.
  9. Material connection with nature. Materials and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology and create a distinct sense of place.
  10. Complexity and order. Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.
  11. Prospect. An unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning.
  12. Refuge. A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.
  13. Mystery. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment.
  14. Risk/peril. An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable safeguard.