We see numerous examples throughout history where a disease outbreak, by exposing issues of city life, led to a transformation in urban design. The cholera outbreaks of the 1830s encouraged better sanitation in London, while the tuberculosis epidemic in New York in the early 20th century resulted in improved public transport system and housing regulations. Will the current pandemic follow the same historical pattern? Is there even a need for change in urban design?
Will the current pandemic follow the same historical pattern? Is there even a need for change in urban design?
Biophilic design aspires to transform the relationship between humans and nature in our cities and homes. This increasingly popular architectural movement aims to create good habitat for people as biological organisms inhabiting modern structures. The biophilia hypothesis, constructed by biologist Edward O. Wilson, proposes that humans have an innately emotional need to connect to nature and other living organisms as a result of having evolved in a bio-centric rather than in a human-engineered world. The idea of living together and growing with nature shines through its design principles. The framework of Biophilic design can be organised into three categories as shown below.
The design elements of this architectural movement are inspired by the idea of 'coevolution', the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. The transformative power of this mutual interaction often goes unnoticed. It has been 100 years since the residents of my local area in Manchester welcomed the wildflowers, the dragonflies and the silver birch trees of the new public park. From then on, this green space has become a popular path to work for many, the location of Sunday football matches, the classroom of scouts and brownies, a place for meditation and the residents’ favourite dog walking and running route. It has shaped local life. However, this interaction has not been one-sided. As much as the greenery has transformed the lives of many Mancunians, the park has also become adapted to its visitors who kept the ducks fed, selected for particular flower species and controlled weed growth. By integrating biophilic design into future cities and homes through urban parks and indoor gardens, we can nurture and strengthen the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and nature.
By integrating biophilic design into future cities and homes through urban parks and indoor gardens, we can nurture and strengthen the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and nature.
Improved mental and physical wellbeing as well as reduced climate impacts are some of the most evident benefits that regular interaction with nature brings. Biophilic design, by encouraging daily connection with nature, could induce positive cognitive responses like increased focus and attention and physiological responses such as lowering of blood pressure and stress hormone levels (Ulrich R.S et al 1991, Hartig et al 2003, Orsega-Smith et al 2004). Furthermore, green plants play important parts in cleaning our atmosphere from particulate matter, reducing urban heat island effect and decreasing the levels of noise pollution. Therefore, by designing and building cities that incorporate nature into their daily life, we could improve public health, resilience to disease outbreaks, as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change.
By designing and building cities that incorporate nature into their daily life, we could improve public health, resilience to disease outbreaks, as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change.
However, I think Biophilic design addresses an even bigger phenomenon named the ‘environmental generational amnesia’ (EGA). According to the creator of this idea, psychologist Peter Kahn, the ‘nature’ I think of is completely different from what the locals knew, before the opening of our park, as ‘nature’. The concept of EGA states that each generation perceives the environment into which it is born as a fixed, unchangeable surrounding. This environment is set as the baseline for a lifetime regardless of how developed, urbanised or polluted it is. This theory proposes an explanation for the reason many environmental efforts have failed to achieve global public engagement. People continue to think about environmental problems in relation to what they were exposed to while growing up. EGA buffers the weight of environmental issues by hindering people’s perception of the scale of ecological damage.
The concept of EGA states that each generation perceives the environment into which it is born as a fixed, unchangeable surrounding.
Environmental damage does not appear to be so severe because it has been more or less the same during the lifetime of a person. However, natural degradation is a process that traverses generations and a cross-generational problem requires cross-generational awareness. Youth environmental movements evidence that developing such consciousness is possible. Environmental education, discussions with older generations and most importantly interaction and exploration of nature during childhood all have the capacity to reconstruct the generational idea of nature. We need cities that offer open green spaces and urban wilderness which allow children and adults alike to engineer new concepts of ecological health. This way we can give life to generations that are responsible guardians of the environment.
We need cities that offer open green spaces and urban wilderness which allow children and adults alike to engineer new concepts of ecological health.
Biophilic design in future cities, homes, workplaces, schools and hospitals would offer a new place for the coevolution of human, non-human and technology. Daily interactions within this environment would not only improve mental and physical wellbeing of many but they would also encourage the construction of a more accurate view of the natural world increasing public engagement in the fight against climate change. If we take care of our environment, it will take care of us. By living and growing with nature we can achieve a sustainable urban future where all living beings (human and non-human) thrive.
Written by Guest Writer Darinka Szigecsan