Many of us, especially in the field of architecture, spend a lot of our time focused on and engrossed in the built form of our world. It can sometimes be easy to forget the importance of nature and how it can affect us on a daily basis. Stanford recently published a study connecting spending time in nature with a reduced risk for depression. Conversely, the study claimed city dwellers had a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural locations (link to Stanford article below). With mental health and wellness becoming more of a hot button issue in our culture, it’s time that we architects ask ourselves what we can do to incorporate this natural anti-depressant into our design work.
Biophilia, literally defined, means the love of life or living systems. Designers have begun to use this term as a rallying flag for creating spaces that allow the end user to experience the natural world within a built structure. Some basic principles of Biophilic Theory are an abundant use of natural lighting, views and connections to the outdoors from within the building, use of natural textures in material choice, and creating areas of refuge. By using these ideals, designers have been able to increase the health and happiness of the end user by bringing the outside in and creating spaces that bring one closer to nature.
The need for this kind of design is compounded when designing spaces for high stress professions, or healthcare settings where a patient’s health and attitude are of the utmost importance. Tokyu Hospital is one of the first projects to really take this theory to heart. The building is wrapped in a trellis system that provides support for hundreds of ivy plants attempting to swallow the building into its green cocoon. The ivy helps to provide several functions for the building. It provides views of nature that assist with the health and wellness of not only its long-term patients, but the staff as well. The planted façade also creates a barrier between the hospital and a neighboring train station, all while paying homage to how the area looked before buildings dominated the landscape. The balance between nature and technology of the hospital is a balance many people seek to find in their everyday lives. Architects and designers are uniquely equipped to help provide this balance and help to bring nature and the outdoors into our homes, offices, and institutions.