…and a brief lesson in Earthing.
If you could teleport to where you’d much rather be right now, where would that be?
Would it be a place where the sun shines on your face, or high on a hill where a breeze brushes your skin? Would you be submerged in cool blue water, or would you be hanging out with a partner, or a beloved pet? I may not have nailed your perfect place, but I bet that sitting in your office wasn’t your answer. Why? The truth is we’re creatures of biology, not silicon. We find solace in nature.
Our earth is a complex, vibrant ecosystem where all organisms interact to create the ideal conditions for life. We may not completely understand how it all works, but we have an affinity to nature because we are part of that ecosystem.
Irked that humanity was pushing towards industrialization without much regard for our amazing ecosystem, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin created Earth Day almost 50 years ago. The idea was to dedicate a day each year to understanding, learning and respecting the natural system of which we are a part. Earth Day, April 22nd is a perfect time to reflect on what is helping us thrive, even though a massive 90% of our lives are spent in man-made structures.
For the most part, we can thank the principles of Biophilic design for our continued well being. Biophilic design principles articulate the relationship between nature, human biology and the built environment. We have evolved to the level where we are able to enhance our environment and thus promote our fitness and survival through incorporating our ecosystem in our lives. Fire keeps us warm, water hydrates our bodies, plants provide nutrients, refuge keeps us protected, etc. Biophilic design recognizes 14 patterns with the purpose of addressing human well-being. These principles have been proven to increase health benefits. These Biophilic design patterns fall under three categories.
NATURE IN SPACE: This is the direct physical impact, or sense, of nature in space.
Project: Marketo, San Mateo CA
- Visual Connection to Nature. Our brains and bodies respond and connect by simply seeing nature. Think: windows.
- Non-Visual Connection to Nature. Without seeing it you can still experience it thanks to our other senses. The blind critic explains some his favorite nature sounds. Simply open your ears, nostrils, taste buds and feel around you.
- Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. These are non-predictable movements that we relate to elements of nature. Maybe it’s a waterfall or leaves of a tree rustling in a breeze.
- Thermal & Airflow Variability. The cool moisture of a dewy morning changing to a warm, breezy afternoon.
- Presence of Water. Imagine staring at a mirrored lake or trickling brook, listening to the sound of the water lapping or trailing your fingers on the wet surface.
- Dynamic & Diffuse Light. Think: golden hour.
- Connection with Natural Systems. Become a holistic participant in the natural changes throughout the seasons; the look, the feel, the sights, the sounds, and the smells.
NATURAL ANALOGS: Objects, materials, colors, shapes, sequences and patterns evoke a sense of nature.
Project: Facebook, Menlo Park
- Biomorphic Forms and Pattern. Naturally occurring shapes and schemes. Think: flowers, spider webs and honeycombs.
- Material Connection with Nature. Distinctive materials that are found in specific places. Think: Lava rock near volcanoes or sand on the beach.
- Complexity and Order. This is the way things are scaled naturally in space. Wide open valley or inside a small mountaintop cave.
NATURE OF THE SPACE: Spatial elements that evoke our desire to go into the unknown, taking a risk momentarily, until we discover we can proceed safely.
Project: Dropbox, San Francisco CA
11. Prospect. Having access to a vista or distant view.
12. Refuge. Finding a secure covered space, like a protected cave, to watch the activity outside or perhaps watch the dinosaurs migrate past you.
13. Mystery. This is the innate urge to discover. Curiosity killed the cat but that sure didn’t stop cats from being curious.
14. Risk and Peril. There might be something to the space that is a bit risky, releasing a good dose of dopamine, with the knowledge that we’ll be alright because the risk isn’t all that bad. (After all, the dinosaurs are extinct.)
Biophilia research demonstrates how environments impact one or more of these mind-body systems: cognitive, psychological and physiological.
The research shows measurable positive impacts on us such as reduced stress, visual acuity, hormone balance, and creativity. Basically, the result of these positive impacts is all-around well-being. The integration of these patterns in today’s workplaces and structures have allowed us to thrive and stay connected even though we no longer live under the stars or hunt our own meals.
But what if you don’t necessarily work in an environment applying Biophilia? Perhaps your stress level has been rising. What can you do? Well, don’t fret. The simple daily practice of grounding yourself or “Earthing” also has great health benefits. Go outside, take off your shoes and connect with the earth. This may sound hippy-dippy but there is a reputable health study which shows that connecting with the earth’s electrons “can promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.”
Hopefully your work environment is designed around Biophilic principles. On this Earth Day, you might be inspired to say a quick thanks to your Facilities, Real Estate, Architecture or Design professionals who have thoughtfully considered your health and well-being in the creation of your work environment.
If not, at least go outside and play footsie with the Earth’s electrons. Your body systems will thank you. Happy Earth Day.
With over 20 years of design application and workplace strategy experience, Marlene understands the changing world of work, from the most influential Bay Area to a broad range of markets nationwide. She engages with clients on discovery, visioning and thoughtful design strategy.