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Biophilic design: How architecture can contribute to a healthier, less-stressful life

By Janet Dunn
Despite the many conveniences and advantages of modern life, wellbeing and contentment continue to evade many of us. The cure may be in an architectural concept that sounds new but is as old as the hills. Take a dose of biophilia and read how your home’s design can help you live a healthier, less stressful life.

The tale of a tiger


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Tony the Siberian-Bengal tiger was an attraction at a truck stop in Louisiana, USA until recently, when his life – lived out in a cage outside the petrol station – was cut short due to illness. The tiger spent most of his 17 years in the fume-filled artificial habitat, but had his owner known more about the links between an animal’s surroundings and its health and happiness, Tony’s story may have ended differently.

Is there a lesson humans can take from Tony’s fate? Deprived of sensory stimuli, social bonds and connection with nature in our homes and workplaces, we may be heading down the same path. Biophilic design is being advanced as the next important focus in architecture and as a remedy, partly, for the plethora of modern-day conditions linked to fatigue and stress.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilia literally translates as ‘love of life’. In the 1980s, American biologist E. O. Wilson proposed that evolution has soft-wired us to prefer natural settings over built environments. In Wilson’s words, we have “an innate and genetically determined affinity … with the natural world”. Exponents of biophilic design are attempting to address this instinct architecturally.

Photo by Brickworks Building Products

Essential to biophilic theory is the idea that buildings aid our physical and mental health only when they are designed holistically. Rather than isolated elements – for example, simply putting plants in a building – benefits occur when diverse and complementary factors reinforce our experiences of nature. Wilson’s colleague Dr Steven Kellert named plants and natural lighting, and indirect influences through shapes, forms and materials that originate in the natural world, as some of the attributes of this kind of design.

Is it just another name for green architecture?

Green building principles emphasise responsibility to the environment and efficient use of sustainable resources. Although biophilic design embraces these aims, its focus is more on the wellbeing of those who use the spaces.

The merging of planet-based with human-based philosophies is causing a stir in architectural circles. Brian Donovan of BVN Donovan Hill commented that “architecture will never be the same again”.

What’s new about it?

Biophilic design is a rediscovery of an ancient practice, not a new idea. For aeons, architects have recognised the place of humans in a wider ecosystem and integrated natural elements into built forms. Athens’ Parthenon, Rome’s Pantheon, and the ancient Vietnamese city of Hoi An are examples of biophilic design at work, although the label wasn’t attached until the 1980s.

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Frank Lloyd Wright was a more recent exponent of biophilia. “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” he advised, and many of his buildings bear this out. Notably, his groundbreaking Fallingwater (pictured above) is so integrated with nature as to be inseparable.

Why are we talking about it now?

Today, the concept of biophilia is supported by a more scientific understanding of the psychology behind building-based wellness. Exponents of biophilic design believe the large proportion of time we spend in built environments may contribute significantly to feelings of isolation, tension and lethargy.

Today, there is growing interest in designing restorative, productive and appealing buildings with sustained opportunities to engage with natural systems. Workplaces, medical and aged care facilities and, vitally, our homes are set to benefit hugely from this trend.

What are the elements of biophilic design?

  • Natural light from windows, skylights, clerestory openings; full-spectrum artificial light sources that complement daylight; dynamic light of varying intensity via facades, shades, shutters and apertures.
  • Exterior views. A distant view past a close view gives perspective and a sense of connection to a wider ecosystem.
  • Water sources such as fountains, ponds and water features, that can be seen, heard and touched.
  • Rich sensory stimuli that reference nature; scented plants, plants that change colour seasonally, plants positioned to move in breezeways, open flames, tactile materials. Minimally processed materials that reflect the local ecology; natural fibres such as leather, stone, timber and handmade objects.
Photo by Olivia van Dijk Architecture - Look for living room design inspiration

An intriguing aspect of biophilic design is that, in the absence of real natural environments, simulation has equal benefits. This is known as ‘biomimicry’ and is perhaps the feature that is most useful and achievable in urban spaces. It is found in:

  • organic shapes in construction and furniture (geometric shapes are rarely found in nature).
  • colour schemes derived from nature – earth and vegetation tones, colours found in water and the sky.
  • nature imagery, either realistic or derivative, including photographs, art, murals, sculptures and stylised floral or vegetal patterns
Photo by MRTN Architects – Browse dining room photos

An architect talks about biophilic design

Architect Antony Martin says biophilic concepts are very present in MRTN Architects‘ projects. For example, Fairfield Hacienda (above) includes multiple sources of natural light, ventilation and natural materials associated with physical and mental health benefits. Martin describes the undulating cedar-clad ceiling as “the antithesis of the ubiquitous flat, white plasterboard ceiling, moving towards more environmental shapes and forms.”

A green buffer to the street enables connection and interaction with vegetation and views for the occupants and passers-by. Internally, a central courtyard allows visual connection with other areas of the house and creates a thermal ‘lung’ for natural cooling and heating.

Photo by MRTN Architects - More kitchen ideas

Meanwhile, in his Rathmines project, salvaged materials relate to the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi – the beauty in imperfection and natural processes. The kitchen island is topped with tactile recycled wharf, while the interior walls and barbecue area outside are constructed of salvaged brick.

In Martin’s Trentham Long House, the material palette echoes the natural environment, favouring texture over flat colour. Timber cladding is allowed to silver over time and contrast with the character-filled slate tile floor. Gabion stone walls shelter alfresco living areas, allowing outdoor connection even on windy days.

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A lattice of timber battens throws dappled shadows on the slate floors. “The moving patterns evoke the protective canopy of trees on the forest floor,” says Martin.

Photo by MRTN Architects – Search kitchen pictures

An extension to the Carlton Cloister was achieved by a corridor link between the main house and the two-storey addition. The covered walkway connects continuously to the garden through north-facing glazing. Built from red brick and blackbutt cladding, materials in this project more closely align to external spaces than interior ones, reinforcing the outdoor aspects of the walkway.

The house is positioned around a central courtyard and offers layered views from every aspect. Concentrating the garden to the north optimises natural daylight. The high thermal mass of internal red brick walls and concrete slab capture direct solar heat like a battery, which is then released when needed. The result is a home that comforts the body as naturally and effectively as it does the soul. And that’s biophilic in one simple phrase.

This article originally appeared on Houzz.

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Alex Chinneck Ties Architecture Into Knots for German Exhibition

Alex Chinneck knotted historic columns for Birth, Death, and a Midlife Crisis, part of “Knots,” which runs at the Städtische Galerie Kornhaus in Kirchheim Unter Teck, Germany, until April 8. Photography by Charles Emerson.

Alex Chinneck has ripped buildings in half. He also melted a brick facade. The English artist’s latest reality-defying endeavor? Tying 450-year-old pillars into knots. Until April 8, German town Kirchheim Unter Teck’sStädtische Galerie Kornhaus will showcase Birth, Death, and a Midlife Crisis, Chinneck’s first indoor sculpture in five years. Part of “Knots,” the architectural intervention also includes the introduction of a perfectly straight column—virtually indistinguishable from the historical ones—to create symmetry around the knotted pillar.

“I like to give fluidity to typically inflexible things, transcending their material nature,” says Chinneck, who included a hard-carved wooden broom leaning against the wall, also knotted. “I wanted to create the impression that the work was born through manipulation, rather than introduction, of material.”

“Knots” also includes a broom. Photography by Charles Emerson.

Chinneck’s knotted works continue their journey when Onwards and Upwards, the largest public artwork ever commissioned in England’s Sheffield City Region, goes on view. Slated to open in summer 2019, the commission by the Tinsley Art Project comprises four chimneys, incorporating 100,000 bricks, that riff on the region’s industrial heritage. 

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Magda Biernat photographed a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill building at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. SOM tends to build long-term relationships with photographers “because there is a learning curve with every new photographer,” says SOM photo coordinator Lucas Blair Simpson.


7 Beautiful, Family-Owned Wineries That Are Working to Save the Planet

With an ever-growing interest in the field of architecture to go green, it should come as little surprise that agricultural architecture—specifically that of wineries—has seen a surge in promoting sustainability. From tasting rooms to storage facilities to offices, new buildings at wineries across North America are being constructed with eco-friendly technology to reduce the impact of the wineries on the natural environment. And, impressively, many of these wineries are family-owned. Here are seven of our favorite wineries that have structures with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.


Photo: Damion I. Hamilton / Courtesy of Silver Oak

Silver Oak Winery, Oakville, California

Founded by friends Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer in 1972, Silver Oak, which is still owned and operated by the Duncan family, was the first production winery in the world to receive LEED Platinum certification—the highest level of sustainability recognition by the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to features like solar panels and night-air cooling, the winery has replaced its lawn with turf, which saves about one million gallons of water a year. Silver Oak is also working on opening a second, even “greener” location, which might become the first net-zero energy, net-zero water production winery in the world (pictured here).

“As an American heritage winery, we care about the message our product sends and so do our loyal Silver Oak fans. Our goal in building green was to create sustainable methods that could be replicated moving forward, to advance the green methods wineries have at their fingertips,” Silver Oak CEO David Duncan tells AD.

Photo: Joe Reeder

Hall St. Helena, St. Helena, California

The Hall family’s St. Helena winery became the first in California to receive LEED Gold certification in 2009, following up with additional LEED Gold certifications for its tasting room and production facility. Its sustainable elements include renewable energy systems (like solar power), an advanced stormwater runoff catchment process, and the use of recycled material in its shipping boxes, among many others.

Photo: Courtesy of Shale Oak Winery

Shale Oak Winery, Paso Robles, California

Owned by Al Good, a California transplant by way of Virginia, Shale Oakreceived LEED Silver certification for its tasting room, which has an impressive stained-glass facade and adjacent processing facility. Natural sunlight helps illuminate the interiors during the day, thanks to sun tubes and large windows, a rooftop solar array provides renewable energy, and a rainwater catchment and graywater systems help reduce the winery’s water usage.


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The 12 Most Anticipated Buildings of 2018

At its core, architecture is an exceptionally slow art form. After a commission is earned, the planning, building, and completion of a structure can take, at times, upwards of a decade. Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this length of time for design and construction wasn’t an issue, as predicating the near-term needs of a city was a relatively achievable goal. Yet, as technology advanced and cities such as New York and London boomed into metropolises, planning to meet the exact needs for an urban space became exceedingly difficult.

Consider the task of an architect who, in 1998, won a commission for a building in Beijing that took ten years to complete. In that time period, China’s capital would undergo one of the biggest social and cultural shifts in the country’s long history. What’s more, the advancements in computer technology during that ten-year stretch were profound. How does an architect predict this type of transformation in an initial scheme? It’s almost impossible. As a result, the role of an architect has changed. No longer are they merely designing a building but are doing so in a manner that’s similar to a sociologist. By spotting (and at times predicting) the patterns of social interactions and cultural norms, today’s influential architects can create an identity for a city that’s become a cacophony of objects.

Looking to the year ahead of us, we wonder: Which buildings will capture the essence of their location, even as they were initially conceived at a time when the demands of the space were different? Below, AD PRO surveys 12 buildings around the world that will not just be completed in 2018 but done so with a design that we believe will produce an identity to match the needs of its environment. When this bold, and at times radical, type of design comes together, the result is stunningly beautiful. Indeed, as the great 19th-century critic Walter Pater once said (and the inimitable architecture critic Herbert Muschamp later echoed), architecture is fundamentally about “the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.” We believe these 12 buildings will possess that power.

Rendering: Courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group

ARC Power Plant, by Bjarke Ingels Group (Copenhagen, Denmark)

For the past few years, Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels has been redefining skylines across the globe. But for his latest project, the 43-year-old visionary stayed closer to home. Located in Copenhagen, the ARC Power Plant is the apogee of creative brilliance. Fundamentally, the state-of-the-art facility is proof that eco-friendly architecture can be done with high design. Clad in aluminum, the structure is expected to burn 400,000 tons of waste annually into enough clean energy to power 60,000 homes in the area—all of which is a major step in Copenhagen’s plan to become the world’s first zero-carbon city by 2025. But it’s not just about converting waste to energy—it’s about having fun too. Atop the structure’s roof is a nearly 1,500-foot-long ski slope (one of the world’s longest artificial ski slopes), a pipe dream of Ingels’s own that he worked into possibility. The slope, which is accessible through an elevator inside the building, has paths designated for beginners, intermediates, and experts. While Denmark receives a healthy amount of snow, the country is rather flat and not an ideal terrain for ski lovers. BIG’s ARC Power Plant is changing all of that in a very carbon-neutral way.

Rendering: Courtesy of Snøhetta & MIR

Calgary Library, by Snøhetta (Calgary, Canada)

Fundamentally, Calgary’s new library is about connecting residents to public spaces. Located at the intersection between Downtown Calgary and the East Village, the Snøhetta-designed structure lifts to become a gateway from one exciting neighborhood to the next. The building also hovers over the existing Light Rail Transit Line, which cuts through the heart of the city. The geometrically designed exterior will draw residents into the activities occurring inside the library, while those upper levels (which aren’t as open to the public to see from outside) allow for a more quiet, traditional library experience.

Photo: Iwan Baan

Institute for Contemporary Art, by Steven Holl (Richmond, Virginia)

Virginia Commonwealth University’s new Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) is much more than what its name suggests. The genius of Steven Holl’s design is that, while the architecture is masterfully uniform, the usage of its interior is anything but that. The ICA will be used as a cafe bar, a gallery space, a 240-seat auditorium for film screenings, performances, and lectures, as well as a fabrication workshop. Not only do Holl’s irregularly shaped blocks have a whimsical feel, but they are incredibly eco-friendly as well. Four green roofs are planted with native vegetation, which are intended to absorb stormwater and increase insulation. Window and skylights have been strategically placed to ensure the interior receive plenty of natural light, reducing the need for artificial illumination. The project will be opened to the public in April 2018, roughly six years after it was first unveiled.

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How can the smart home sector engage better with the architecture and design world?

A couple of months ago, a colleague and I attended an event co-hosted by Microsoft and the RIBA exploring how to ‘Rethink space through digital design’. Although heavily focused on how Microsoft’s technology could be used to design architectural spaces, a panel discussion also explored several issues around the future of residential and commercial buildings, and what elements the panel believed would be crucial in the coming years. Notably, the terms ‘smart home’ or ‘smart building’ were not mentioned once during this conversation.

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In a time of “slash careers” (model/photographer/part-time tarot card reader), it’s rare to find authentic creative fulfillment — and success — in more than one industry. It’s especially rare when you haven’t yet hit 25. For Lauren Bencivengo, age is just a number and design is just a very, very broad industry…that she is already conquering on several fronts.


Technology and interior design

In 1979, when I first began my study of architecture, construction, and interior design I used vellum, a T-square, lead holders (drafting pencils) and lead pointers (sharpeners), a drafting brush, radiograph technical pen set, drafting table, compass sets and dividers, triangles, and drafting tape, to name a few! I have always loved drawing and I still have all the tools from yester-year and keep them close at hand. In the past 15 years, technology has influenced many design fields. Interior design is certainly in that category. Some changes in my industry of interior design are the use of AutoCAD, SketchUp, Revit, 3D StudioMax, and the list goes on. The influence of computer technology on the interior design field for over a decade has been prodigious. Technology has opened up the process of how we design, adding tremendous range, speed, and quality to our design and renderings that we present to our clients.


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Outside in: Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on interior design

For the editor of a lifestyle magazine, Elizabeth Gordon of House Beautiful was a little wound up. The target of her wrath? “A self-chosen elite that is trying to tell us what we should like and how we should live.”

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Hamburg’s Newest Luxury Hotel is an Architectural Wonder

Resembling three interlocking circles and covered with thousands of white porcelain tiles that reflect the shimmering waters of Lake Alster, the Fontenay, will debut in the German city of Hamburg this fall. The Leading Hotels of the World property will be the first five-star hotel to debut in the European city in 18 years.

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