Biophilia

The Biophilia Hypothesis postulates that human beings have an instinctive bond with all other living things, a theory first proposed in the 1980s by biologist Edward O. Wilson.11 Designers are increasingly recognizing the importance of connecting people with the outdoors through building design, by bringing nature into buildings and buildings into nature.

For example, in green buildings, great importance is placed on providing views of the outdoors from all workstations. Research indicates that being able to see outside during the workday is more conducive to physical and mental health than working in a windowless environment.

We shouldn't be too surprised at such a result. After all, just recall that human beings evolved for the past two million years in intimate connection to the natural world, depending on it for food, shelter, clothing and tools for survival, as well as for poetic and artistic inspiration. Most indigenous cultures are intimately related to their specific place on the planet; the animals, birds, vegetation, and creatures of the sea and rivers occupy a special place in their creation stories and sense of well-being. Only during the past 100 to 150 years have a large number of people spent most of their daylight hours indoors; it seems that we are still hard-wired to want to know what's going on around us.

Daylighting design is also a way to bring nature and the natural cycle of the sun to our attention. Research on 21,000 elementary school students in 1999 showed that schools with daylighting and views of the outdoors promote higher test scores among students; the more windows and views, the higher the score.12 Studies of office workers in California in 2003 concluded that "better access to views consistently predicted better perform-ance."13 Daylighting has also been found to increase retail sales at chain stores by 5% to 40%, with a profit value 20 to 50 times the value of just the increased energy savings from skylights.14

Green building designers have gone much further to explore bio-philia. For example, past studies of healing in hospitals have shown that patients heal faster (and get out of the hospital faster) when their windows face onto natural areas. Many hospitals have taken this idea into the form of healing gardens where patients recovering from surgery can spend time each day.

Many of us have spent time in buildings where there are waterfalls, winter gardens, even simple natural elements such as boulders and sand, and we've noticed how much more relaxed and comfortable (and comforting) such places are. Isn't it amazing that we put so many people to work each day in sterile cubicle farms and then expect them to be productive? How little knowledge we really have of human motivation, health and performance in the world of commercial architecture and design! Bio-philia promises to be an interesting, exciting and vital part of green building design over the next decade.

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