Better Habitats for Humans – Part 1

David Gerson

The Living Future unConference in Seattle celebrated its 11th anniversary this May. The enthusiasm for creating buildings and interiors that support positive, healthy and equitable environments for all was palpable.

The kick off to three days of learning, sharing and festivities was the 2nd annual Biophilic Design Summit. The goal for this year’s program was to provide a day of learning and interactive experiences that took attendees beyond the more familiar aspects of biophilic design and explore lesser practiced patterns, such as non-rhythmic sensory stimulation.

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Members of the Biophilic Design Advisory board who helped to shape and facilitate the event. From left to right: Richard Placenti, Sonja Bochart, Vivian Loftness, Amanda Sturgeon, Julia Africa, Bill Browning, David Gerson, Nicole Isle and Judi Heerwagen (Not pictured: Edna Catumbela and Denise DeLuca)

The day began with the renowned author, speaker and practitioner of biophilic design, Judi Heerwagen of the US General Services Administration. Her presentation centered on how we could create better “Habitats for Humans.” She challenged us to consider our built spaces from an evolutionary psychology and biology perspective and incorporate the aspects of our ancient habitats that made us feel safe and connected to our tribe. In short, a green wall or windows alone cannot create a “habitat.” It must be holistic and integrated.

She also provided striking examples of modern habitats that are drastically different. Some incorporated our innate needs as living beings and others discounted them in favor of convenient, yet draining environments.

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Although Judi showed numerous examples of good human habitat design, she focused in on six key points:

  • Focus on indoor geography – prospect, refuge, pathways
  • Create an indoor atmosphere with daylight, sky and operable windows
  • Provide sensory change and variability
  • Support social engagement
  • Use natural patterns
  • Enable ongoing connection to nature

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Buildings can do more than simply house people. They can create habitats that fulfill our needs to connect with the earth, nature and each other.

For more information on the effects of biophilic design in the workplace, check out the Human Spaces research report.

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