In its simplest form biophilic design is all about bringing the great outdoors into our interior spaces. The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, meanwhile, is all about immersing oneself in the natural elements, and in recent years, research has shown that this simple act of spending time in green or natural spaces improves concentration, lowers stress levels and improves mood and outlook, physical activity not required.
Relaxation and Nature
A Japanese study showed that men who spent hours in a forest field three days in a row showed increased activity in white blood cells that have the ability to kill tumor or virus-infected cells. Prior to that, the practice had been shown to decrease pulse rate and improve mood.
However, being in that physical space may not be necessary. Many use water installations in city settings to cultivate a calming environment amidst chaotic elements such as traffic or construction. But, as it turns out, the visual of water isn’t even needed, the sound alone is enough to trigger a calming reaction in people. This unique quality of nature’s audio was further explored, in a 2019 study by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman when he found in that those who listened to nature performed better on demanding cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds like cars and voices.
In fact, when one looks at different aspects of biophilic design or technology, they all hone in on replicating one part of the natural environment. Human-centric lighting, for instance, replicates the sun, while certain air purifiers might seek to replicate the air found in natural areas. Each of these elements trip different parts of the brain, triggering partial responses, but their ties to natural world through biomimicry are what unite them.
The Color of Calm
To distill the idea down even further, simply using the colors of nature (blue and green) can have some pretty beneficial effects in humans. Blue is “known to exert a calming, relaxing, yet energizing effect,” according to “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,” by Wallace J. Nichols.
Meanwhile, green has a similar function split into two parts. Blue-green is considered to be one of the easiest to view colors and as such triggers a relaxation state, reducing eye strain and overall allowing for a recharge. Yellow-green, meanwhile, requires more effort for our eyes to view and triggers an energetic state.
It makes sense that the body would respond this way given its reaction to their associated physical counterparts (that being water and living plant material). It also goes to show how deep the connection runs, such that an abstract extraction of colors is enough to trip the senses into thinking something natural is close by, almost like one is holding a single piece of a puzzle: they recognize a familiar pattern but not quite the entire image it’s a part of.
Could Forest Bathing Become Room Bathing?
The trick to forming a full image of a forest in a home (as an example) then leads into biophilic design, and in turn, biophilic integration. Advancements on both sides have made incredible strides in what one can do with an interior space.
Imagine this: a room whose interior walls have been lined with preserved moss and ferns while the exterior is made entirely of glass facing the outside space. The furniture within is a mixture of wooden and stone-like textures with layered lighting that adapts and shifts to correspond with the color temperature and position of the sun throughout the day. Additionally, ambient waterfall white noise occupies the soundscape as a diffuser spreads a natural pine scent throughout the room.
While this takes the notion to its absolute extreme, it’s not that far out of the ordinary in certain offices. It also interprets biophilic design as a sort of Theseus’s ship. By taking bits and pieces that resemble a forest, one might trick a body into thinking its in an outdoor space.
How to Cultivate a Forest Indoors
There are plenty of companies and individuals out there that are using technology and design to generate a simulated outdoor space. By doing that, they’re layering many different natural stimuli all at once to generate deeply restorative environments.
While these exist at the bleeding edge, designers and integrators can still team up on projects to start the process simply. If a forest broken down into its simplest parts can elicit a reaction from those present, all that’s needed is a certain arrangement of those parts for it to spring to life.
Think to a naturally bright space, like a corner area of the house with two windows. The daylighting is already there, but perhaps human-centric lighting gets added to accentuate the sunlight throughout the day. In choosing a color palette for the room, wooden, earthen or stone hues might be selected while the furnishings may pull from natural textures. If it’s meant to be a resting space, perhaps speakers can be installed to play natural sounds when occupied.
As an additive process, it’s important that the design and the technology work in unison. In doing so, designers and integrators can help creative truly restorative spaces for their clients.