Monday, 12 December 2016

Talk : Biophilic Design by Nicole Porter

Interesting Cafe Sci talk recently by Dr Nicole Porter who is Asst Prof at the University of Nottingham School of Engineering

Dr Porter's presentation was on Biophilic Design and forms the basis for this blog post, together with some information from the subsequent Q&A..and a little extra linkage.

Biophilia has been defined as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life" by the US polymath E.O Wilson, and Biophilic Design has been defined by Social Ecologist Shephen Kellert as something that aims to "foster peoples physical and mental wellbeing"

Dr Porter took as an example some of the architecture in Seville, such as at the Hospital de los Venerables in Seville. A number of Biophilic design elements can be seen in the picture below, of a courtyard from the former hospital.

There are plants, water, interesting details and textures to look at and touch (check out the pebbles on the step facings), and views that suggest further areas to explore within the building. The colours are natural and relaxing. It is clearly a-nice-place-to-be!

(C)Hospital de los Venerables

These Biophilic Design Elements have been summarised by Nikos Salingaros):

Life (e.g. plants)
Water (e.g. fountains)
Colour (subtle, natural tones)
Gravity (not opposing gravity with cantilevers etc)
Fractals (e.g. geometric art)
Details (textures, complexity on a human scale)
Affordances (views, mystery, refuges)

Asking whether we were hardwired for Biophilia, Dr Porter pointed out that whilst many Biophilic elements were present in ancient homelands such as savannah, they were notably absent from places such as modern offices

Savannah, containing many Biophilic elements 

Offices, containing few Biophilic elements

Attempts have been made to quantify the effects of Biophilic design. For example, a 1984 paper by Roger Ulrich demonstrated that hospital patients who had a view of trees from their recovery room were discharged faster, had fewer negative comments about nurses and used fewer painkillers than similar patients who had a view of a brick wall.

It was also mentioned that indoor plants can reduce the perceived temperature on a hot day by 5C, due to their respiration and the cooling effect of the damp soil they are generally sitting in.

A number of reports have been written on Biophilic Design, or have incorporated Biophilic approaches into their recommendations :

Reducing Violence and Aggession in A&E, by the UK's Design Council.

Urban Green Spaces - A review of evidence, by the WHO

Public Health and Landscape - Creating healthy places, by the Landscape Institute, who list five principles that they believe are essential to the creation of healthy places:

1. Healthy places improve air, water and soil quality
2. Healthy places help overcome health inequalities
3. Healthy places make people feel comfortable and at ease,
4. Healthy places optimise chances for working,learning and development
5. Healthy places are restorative, uplifting and healing

Dr Porter also gave the example of the New Royal Hospital in Liverpool, which has been designed to ensure that the views were pleasant and that it had a well lit, pleasant central atrium.

Impression of New Royal Hospital Liverpool

And in Singapore, there is an "Eco-Office" rating system designed to encourage offices to be more biophilic and environmentally friendly in their design and operation.

Also mentioned was the detail and textures of Nottingham bildings designed by Watson Forthergill, such as the former Nottingham Daily Express building - check out this website focussed on his life and works

Express Building, Nottingham by Watson Fothergill

The value of parks was also discussed, with mention being made of the way in which the planners of New York left a large space for Central Park, and also of the UK's first civil park, in Birkenhead, opened in 1847.

Birkenhead Park

Biophobia, the converse of Biophilia was mentioned by Dr Porter, who pointed out that words matter - "wetlands" get a better press than "swamps" and "algae" is likely to fair better than "slime". Regarding the latter, Dr Porter pointed out that algae covered buildings were a reality, giving the example of the Biq House in Hamburg

It was pointed out in the Q&A that previous cycles of urban delvelopment in the UK have had some very Biophilic design elements, in particular the "Market Garden" towns of the early 20th century such as Welwyn Garden City, founded by Ebenezer_Howard in the 1920s with the aim of being :

"a town designed for healthy living and industry of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life but not larger, surrounded by a rural belt; the whole of the land being in public ownership, or held in trust for the community."

And of course, the later and well known Milton Keynes

A balance has to be had, however, between the wish to have lots of parkland for Biophilic reasons, and the wish to keep people relatively close to a centre so they can walk / cycle around quickly.

Dr Porter also noted how efforts to humanise town centres, such as pedestrianisation, were often resisted by shop keepers who feared lower passing trade. Whereas the reality was that trade would increase as people became more relaxed in the area. Eateries could also take advantage of the new space by placing tables and chairs outside, indeed, they would pay higher rates to be allowed to do so.

There is some overlap between Biophilia design and the "Blue-Green" urban design movement that aims to developed new strategies for managing urban flood risk as part of a wider, integrated urban planning approach. An example of this design in Nottingham can be seen in the "Rain Gardens" that have been installed in Ribblesdale Road, Sherwood, and which are estimated to reduce storm surge runoff to drains by 33%.

Rain Garden, Nottingham

Lastly, and nothing to do with the subject at hand, very interesting to hear someone mention the Bromley House Library

Very interesting discussion!

Image Sources
Savannah, Office, Building, Rain Garden