Delta—Chapter 4: Changing Paradigms


Chapter 4: Mother Nature, M.D.

Can buildings keep us from getting sick?

The healthcare industry is shifting to a practice focused on both wellness and cure; providers are adopting new attitudes and embracing diverse tools to help patients live healthier lives. Buildings and indoor environments are part of the equation—well-designed space can not only keep us healthy, but stop us from getting sick in the first place.

Research on biophilia (humans' natural affinity with nature) has proven that nature has direct and beneficial effects on everything from stress levels to blood pressure and that our constructed environments often work in opposition to this. Biophilic design advocates the integration of natural elements and attributes in built form to combat these adverse effects. The Terrapin Bright Green consultancy estimates that organizations could save $93 million annual just by providing patients with views of nature as they convalesce.

The benefits of biophilia can be both direct (e.g. cost reduction) and indirect (e.g. improved mood among staff members) and has led to a new understanding of sustainability as health. Efforts such as the WELL Building Standard seek to design  environments that go beyond  just 'green' to be restorative, reconciliatory, and regenerative, and are cutting-edge in that they put people at the heart of design, construction, and operations decisions.

But it's not all about building new structures. The inclusion of natural forms and attributes are equally as effective as nature itself; elements such as low-level ambient lighting, soft fabrics, and soothing colors are commonly used. On the other end of the spectrum are more contemporary options, such as lighting that shifts in color and intensity to mimic daylight, linking the inside and the outside.

Lighting solutions are particularly valuable. One of the most common complaints among office workers is a lack of natural light in their workspaces, which disrupts circadian rhythms. Detrimental effects include disordered sleep, unstable mood, reduced mental agility, and even altered hormone levels. Synchronicity with the external world is part of biophilia—and is often hindered by buildings.

For healthcare organizations, large-scale changes to foster health and wellness (such as new and biophilic buildings) aren't always possible. Biophilic design works on a number of scales and something as small as implying nature can be enough to get the ball rolling. Change doesn't have to happen on a grand scale to make a difference, and every step can positively affect wellness.

Characteristics of Biophilia

Contextual Relationships

  • Geographic Connection
  • Ecological Connection
  • Cultural Connection
  • Site Responsive
  • Internal Relationships

Perceptual Attributes

  • Safety/Refuge
  • Order, Hierarchy, Complexity
  • Enticement & Discovery
  • Beauty

Environmental Features

  • Natural Light
  • Color
  • Water
  • Plants
  • Views/Vistas
  • Airflow
  • Natural Materials

Natural Patterns

  • Age, Change, Patina of Time
  • Spatial Variation
  • Linked Series & Repeating Elements

Read more. Download Delta—Volume 1.