Category Archives: Biophilic Design

Part of Nature, Not Apart from Nature

Our offices can be more than spaces to work. They can actually work for us at a deeply biological level. We know that exposure to nature and spaces that are evocative of nature can help renew our bodies and our minds. Our brains and bodies evolved over tens of thousands of years without buildings, and research indicates that we are at our best when we can recreate physical and psychological reminders of our most ancient home, Earth.

(C) J. Albert Gagnier

Photography: J. Albert Gagnier

Biophilia is at the heart of these realizations – the innate, biological desire and need humans have to connect with other living organisms and the natural world in its entirety. Literally, it means life-loving. According to Dr. Judith Heerwagen, “contact with nature is a basic human need – not a cultural amenity, not an individual preference, but a universal primary need. Just as we need healthy food and regular exercise to flourish, we need ongoing connections with the natural world.”

In fact, we are nature. Interface’s founder, Ray Anderson, often reminded us, “Anything we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves.” Biophilic design holds the promise of embedding this reminder — that we are a part of the web of life and not apart from it — in every space we create.

RESOURCES

Human Spaces

“14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Wellness in the Built Environment”
by Terrapin Bright Green

“The Economics of Biophilia: Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense” by Terrapin Bright Green

“Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life” film by Tamarak Media

WELL Building Standard

“Biophilia and innovation: Can changing your view change your worldview?” by Lindsay James

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Posted in Category Biomimicry, Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Raising the Bar

Jean Nayar

Known for his high risk efforts in advancing an eco-friendly mission for decades, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, has fueled the ever-growing environmental movement in America since he organized the first Earth Day in conjunction with then-Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Thanks to his efforts as a leader on environmental issues, sustainable strides in this country have been taken on multiple fronts. And if his most recent bet on creating the first significant net positive energy office building in the country pays off, then the world will likely be inspired to get a whole lot greener in the years ahead.

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The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center stands as a shining example of the accomplishments Hayes and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Hayes opted to develop the building after searching to no avail in Seattle for environmentally sensitive office space that would meet his criteria. “We were looking for offices that reflected our values,” says Hayes, adding that “our focus is on human ecology with an emphasis on how we can design built environments that are proper, healthy habitats for our species.” Once the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration, Hayes continues to advance environmental initiatives supported by the Bullitt Foundation, which offers grants to organizations working on environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest. The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center, which is owned by the Bullitt Foundation, stands as a shining example of the accomplishments he and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The structure was designed to achieve certification as a Living Building, which is significantly more ambitious than LEED Platinum certification. To meet it, a building must generate as much energy as it uses each year and use rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. It must also meet lofty standards for eco-friendly materials and indoor air quality. Located on a site that was a forest filled with Douglas fir trees before European settlement, the building was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function, says Hayes, as a tree would. “Not only does it provide shelter and sustenance for its users, like a tree would for deer, elk, birds, and squirrels, it also produces its own energy from the sun and rain, it doesn’t produce toxins, and it recycles its waste as nutrients.”

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The Bullitt Center was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Since the Bullitt Foundation operates with only seven employees and needed just 4,000 square feet for its own business, the building was designed to be leased out to additional tenants to make it commercially viable. Among the numerous companies and organizations that have opted to occupy the building are the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which defines the standards for Living Building certification, various small companies, and a substantial engineering firm, which completely tailored its business processes to drive down its energy demand by 82 percent with no loss in productivity or convenience. “We tell our tenants how many kilowatt hours of energy they’re allowed to use, and if they exceed it they pay a stiff penalty for high energy bills,” says Hayes.

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The Seattle office of the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, calls the Bullitt Center home. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The building relies on solar energy to meet its electricity needs, so educating tenants on ways to reduce consumption is necessary to keep the building’s energy use in check. Yet, since the building began operating about two years ago, its energy generating and energy conservation systems not only allow it to meet all of the energy needs of the Bullitt Foundation and other tenants in the building, but also enable it to produce more energy than it consumes, making it the first commercial office building of its size in the U.S. to operate as a net positive energy structure, generating 60 percent more energy than it used in 2014. “The Energy Use Index (EUI) for an average office in Seattle is 95, under our new energy code the index will fall to the low 50s, for LEED Platinum buildings it reaches the low 30s, and for our building we aimed for 16,” says Hayes. “But it has exceeded our wildest hopes. Our EUI in 2014 was 9.4, making it by far the most efficient office building in America.” Its excess power is sold back into the electrical grid for use by others.

A few of the building’s other eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage, composting toilets, and project certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the first office in the U.S. to achieve this status. The building also excludes 362 “Red List” elements that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting. Materials and furnishings devoid of “Red List” elements were also chosen by Robin Chell, principal of Seattle-based RCD, who worked with the Bullitt Foundation to design the interiors of its own offices. “Because we needed to avoid products that contained elements on the “Red List,” everything was rigorously scrutinized and had to be formaldehyde free,” explains Chell.

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A few of the building’s eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage and composting toilets. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The Bullitt Foundation also needed soft furnishings that would serve as acoustical buffers in the space. So, in keeping with the notion of biomimicry, which guided the design of the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, Chell chose felt art works, wool-upholstered soft furnishings, and earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection.  “We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Chell explains. “So we started with the carpet, which inspired the tones of the other elements. Aside from offering environmentally friendly products, Interface has an amazing array of design innovations that are almost always ahead of the curve,” Chell adds. Honored with IIDA’s People’s Choice award last year, Chell’s design is ultimately as eco-friendly as it is practical and appealing to the eye.

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In keeping with the notion of biomimicry, Robin Chell Design chose earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection for the space occupied by the Foundation. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

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“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Robin Chell explains. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

Since Seattle’s climate is often cloudy and gray, creating a six story building that relies on solar energy to meet its power needs was risky. But Hayes was convinced that the potential return on the investment made taking the chance worthwhile. “Other buildings have been designed to meet these sustainable standards, but they are small—usually 2,000-6,000 square feet,” he says. “We wanted to dramatically increase the scale and felt it was doable. Even if we set out and failed, we thought it was still a heroic leap, so we decided why not aim for the moon and give it a shot? We wanted to be taken seriously not only by the academic community, but also by those who actually build.”

Judging by the number of tours (about six per week) that the Bullitt Center hosts in its building for developers, architects, and facility managers, Hayes appears to have succeeded in capturing their attention. And if the building achieves Living Building certification, which it hopes to do later this year, the building will no doubt generate even more interest.

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Posted in Category Biomimicry, Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Project Spotlight, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Moments and Memories from Greenbuild 2014

Mikhail Davis

Led by the indomitable George Bandy, Vice President at Interface, and Chairman of the USGBC Board of Directors, our team had a great week of learning, sharing and collaborating at Greenbuild in New Orleans.

Melissa Vernon, Director of Sustainable Strategy (Americas)
This year we saw much broader recognition that green building is about humans too. From the introduction of three social equity pilot credits in LEED, to the sold-out WELL Building Summit, and case studies of biophilic design research at Google offices globally on the health and wellbeing of building occupants, the community and supply chain had a growing presence at Greenbuild.

One of my favorite sessions was led by Deepak Chopra. He provided insights about mindfulness, and I found his talk ties to our exploration of biophilic design and the biochemical response in our bodies when exposed to nature. It was enlightening to hear more on the mind-body connection and our ability to impact our gene expression with our thoughts. He ended with a 12-minute guided meditation – what a reprieve from the craziness of Greenbuild and a nice way to recharge.

Jennifer Kreyssig, Account Executive (Toronto, Canada)
Lindsay James’s opening remarks at the Women in Green breakfast were a highlight. She said: “My father raised me to ‘think like a man, because it’s a man’s world,’ but I’m telling my daughters to think like Nature, because it’s her world.” This kind of shift is the only way to affect positive change.

Strangely, another highlight was spending two full days in our booth space, which was dynamic, thoughtful, beautiful and biophilic, a true respite from the inevitable boredom and physical fatigue that one associates with tradeshows.

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A biophilically inspired booth, perfect for encouraging show attendees to #MakeBeautyHappen in their next projects.

Lauren White, Interactive Marketing Manager (Americas)
There was a young woman – Jennifer – who came to the booth immediately following the Women in Green breakfast. She was so inspired from hearing about Interface and the Net-Works program that she just had to meet us. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of others generated by our initiatives.

Plus, as a relative newbie to Interface it was really cool to meet members of Interface’s Eco Dream Team during sessions in our booth – Paul Hawken, Bill Browning, Janine Benyus and John Picard. Bill reminded us, “If we’re creating spaces that are beautiful, then we’ll take care of them and love them.”

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Interface’s Eco Dream Team members Bill Browning, Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and John Picard reflected on 20 years of “beautiful thinking” during two Greenbuild sessions.

Nadine Gudz, Director of Sustainable Strategy (Canada and Latin America)
Two of my favorite moments include:
1) Paul Hawken’s keynote where he questioned whether climate change is happening ‘FOR’ us (not ‘TO’ us) sparked critical discussion among many Greenbuild delegates about strategies and opportunities to accelerate game changing innovation to manage carbon.

2) During the closing plenary, Roger Platt, President of USGBC, shared his highlights from Greenbuild and started with Lindsay James’s remarks and the Net-Works video at the Women’s Breakfast!

Erin Meezan, Global VP of Sustainability
One of the big themes I heard was about reframing. How do we reframe our current environmental challenges to have a more hopeful vision for our future? For example, around climate change, like Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown. Or around the future of the built environment and design like Janine Benyus’s vision of cities and buildings that can functionally replicate the local ecosystem’s services. At Interface, we have experienced the power of an amazingly big vision, one that has stood the test of 20 years, and continues to inspire us and challenge us. Twenty years ago, we essentially reframed the vision of our company toward a much more hopeful and positive one that many of our employees instantly felt connected to. We think this is possible for the entire movement.

Lindsay James, VP of Restorative Enterprise (Americas)
I heard that Interface’s evening event with Paul Hawken and Janine Benyus was a highlight for many attendees. Some of my favorite thoughts from their inspirational discussion about the relationship between beauty and sustainability include:
• Beauty is enduring, but beauty is constantly evolving. Beauty exists in our perception, which is why information matters, because new information can shift how we perceive beauty. Are conflict diamonds beautiful?
• Beauty is a sacred pact between our senses and our ability to know what is healthy, developed over tens of thousands of years. In nature, beautiful flowers signal future availability of seeds and fruit, and sparkling water, which we find beautiful, signals cleaner water. In today’s world, we have broken this connection, and it is up to all of us, but especially designers, to re-couple the signal of beauty and healthy choices.

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Janine Benyus and Paul Hawken engage with a large crowd during an after hours event on beauty and sustainability. Nadav Malin moderated.

Mikhail Davis, Director of Restorative Enterprise (Americas)
One of the most inspiring things about Greenbuild is being part of a community of champions. In our daily lives, we may be a voice in the wilderness, trying to bring sustainability into our work, whether in design, construction, manufacturing, journalism, public policy, or technology, but at Greenbuild, we are reunited with our community. I was struck by this when presenting on Net-Works for the Sustainability and Design Leaders gathering at the offices of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Architects. Typically when I present to architecture firms, there are a few green design champions in a larger audience, but this was an entire audience of these champions, a diaspora from dozens of firms, large and small, jam-packed into one small conference room to celebrate and share our common mission.

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Audience of Sustainability and Design Leaders

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COOKFOX Architects: A Vision for a Sustainable Urban Future

Jennifer Busch

The concept of biophilia—first coined by American biologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s, theorizes that humans have a biological need to connect with nature on physical, mental, and social levels, and that this connection affects our personal well-being, productivity, and societal relationships. The concept is easy enough to understand on a micro level. We are all inspired by nature in some way, and respond positively to fresh air, landscape views, and natural light. But on the macro level—as a design concept that can shape the entire built environment—biophilia is somewhat more complex. An offshoot of the sustainability movement, biophilic design seeks to integrate nature and structure by focusing on bringing nature into indoor space, incorporating materials and patterns that evoke nature, and planning open space configurations that allow for expansive views.

Roof garden at COOKFOX Architects’ office in Manhattan. Photography ©COOKFOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Fox, a founder of COOKFOX Architects in New York and a principal of Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental consulting and strategic planning firm committed to improving the human environment through high performance development, policy, and related research, has long been dedicated to the principles of biophilic design, as evidenced in many of the firms’ more recent projects.

One Bryant Park

Also known as the Bank of America Tower, the now-iconic One Bryant Park in New York City was the first commercial high rise to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The 2.1 million-sq.-ft., 55-story tower set a new standard in high performance buildings when it opened in 2009. Among its many sustainable features, it draws on the concepts of biophilic design by emphasizing daylight, fresh air, and an intrinsic relationship to the outdoors.

In response to its dense urban context, the building blurs the boundaries between public and private space with a highly transparent corner entry. A daylit and neutral space, the lobby creates a layered connection to the public realm of Bryant Park, whose restorative green spaces extend into the building through green roofs and a publicly accessible Urban Garden Room. Solid, natural lobby materials anchor the tower to the earth; small, tactile details such as white oak door handles, fossil-embedded Jerusalem stone, and leather paneling keep the massive tower intelligible to the human hand and eye.

As it rises from the street grid, the massing of the tower shifts, increasing the surface area exposed to daylight. The resulting angles offer views around and through the forest of Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers, and on its southeast side, a deep double wall orients the building in its full height toward Bryant Park. A floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall provides expansive views while minimizing solar heat gain through low-e glass and heat-reflecting ceramic frit.

641 Avenue of the Americas

COOKFOX “walks the green talk” in the design of its own offices. Its LEED-CI Platinum certified space at 641 Avenue of the Americas in New York serves as a showcase that reflects the firm’s studio culture and its commitment to sustainability, as well as its vision for the future of biophilic design. The light-filled studio—in the penthouse of a former department store in the Ladies Mile Historic District—features and open floor plan, 14-ft. ceilings, and original column and ceiling details from the early 1900s. Daylight fills the interior space through a sweeping curve of 9-ft. windows that offer breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, including many of the city’s most iconic buildings. An upgraded HVAC system, operable windows, and low-VOC materials provide natural ventilation and high indoor air quality. The interiors palette gives priority to natural, local, and eco-friendly materials.

A 3,600-sq.-ft. roof garden is the office’s strongest biophilic element and is visible from nearly every work area. The green roof, planted with drought-tolerant, low maintenance sedum species, reduces stormwater runoff, decreases the building’s cooling load, and houses an apiary with over 50,000 Italian bees. Three COOKFOX staffers who are amateur beekeepers tend the colony.

All of these sustainable features serve as the backdrop for regular office tours and a monthly environmental lecture series.

 

510 West 22nd Street

Inspired by its proximity to the High Line as much as by biophilia, the 10-story office tower for real estate developer Albanese Organization that is planned for 510 West 22nd Street will provide maximum visual and physical connection to the landscaped environment of the High Line and views of the Hudson River beyond.

A glass-enclosed lobby captures natural light from the High Line above, and offers tenants and visitors a view of the ground level garden, while a rooftop garden enhances the connection to the surrounding natural environment. The glass curtain wall relates to the park’s infrastructure with structural elements in dark charcoal metal, and all terraces feature natural wood ceilings recalling the plantings and wood benches below.

Panoramic windows, coupled with support columns pulled back 15 ft. from the perimeter window walls, ensure light-filled office floors with expansive views over the High Line and West Chelsea. Exterior solar shades allow abundant natural light to enter work areas while mitigating glare and reducing heat load. Operable window panels enable tenants to enjoy fresh air and listen to birds living in the High Line’s birch tree thicket below.

510 West 22nd Street also features over 15,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space for office tenants’ use, including landscaped terraces cut into the building profile to offer close-up views of the landscape and trees along the High Line.

The tower is being designed by COOKFOX to achieve a LEED Platinum rating.

“If you are a decent architect today, you will focus on saving energy and water,” says Bob Fox. “But how do you create architecture that has a direct connection to nature?” Biophilic design, a practice that essentially melds the two, is gaining popularity worldwide, and is already becoming an increasingly important conversation on the sustainability horizon. COOKFOX’s work is evidence that biophilia can inform projects as diverse as super tall architecture for a global financial giant, to a speculative office tower for a real estate developer, to the adaptive reuse of an historic interior for a creative organization. What they share is a better vision for healthy, sustainable, high-performance space.

 

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