Category Archives: Biophilic Design

Milan Design Week: Inspiration and Trends

Kari Pei

Milan Design Week 2016. A feast for the designer’s eye and a great time to soak up all sorts of inspiration and new design trends.

This year at Salone Mobile, I saw a playful, ‘70s’ influence throughout furniture and accessories, but modernized and spiced up with new twist on scale, shine and texture. A combination of metallic and matte surfaces, rounded corners and sleek Ming style influences dominated the show. Woven looks showed up frequently in seats, backs, canopies and bags, in everything from wide bands to thin strips of twine.

Milan Design Week

Furniture and accessories with a playful ’70’s influence, modernized and spiced up with a new twist.

Privacy cocooning was also prevalent through an abundance of canopy/winged chairs for one or more. Combined with oversized objects; including lamps and planters, the whimsy was underscored. Drawing even more emphasis on the adolescent themes were the many objects from a ‘70’s childhood made adult by gold plating.

Milan Design Week

Privacy cocooning combined with oversized objects add to the whimsical theme.

Giant plants and an abundance of foliage dominated the scene, lending support to the benefits of biophilic design. These indoor plants were often paired with furniture normally designed for the outdoors, like a picnic table lowered and made into an office coffee table, an interesting way to cultivate more of the “I’m really outside” mentality.

Milan Design Week

Giant plants and an abundance of foliage lend support to the benefits of biophilic design.

And the colors? I’d narrow them down to three distinct themes: the Dutch Masters, Giorgio Morandi and super brights with muted neutrals.

Milan Design Week

A variety of colors from super brights to muted neutrals.

Of course I snapped thousands of photos to capture all of the inspiring design during Milan Design Week, but my favorites are up on our Pinterest board. Take a peek below.

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Welcoming Biophilia in Hospitality


Ever since E.O. Wilson introduced the notion of biophilia in his 1984 book of the same name, there has been mounting evidence that humans are innately drawn to the natural world. It has been proven that views of nature enhance healing and that natural light promotes better learning. Clearly, our connection with nature has a pervasive influence. And design can be used to very effectively bridge the gap between the natural world and even the most urban environments. This phenomenon has been explored and documented in the workplace, in classrooms and in health facilities, where it shows a direct relationship to increased productivity, creativity and wellbeing. This has sparked great interest in how biophilic design might enhance the guest experience in hospitality.

hotel lobby

Design can be used to bridge the gap between the natural world and even the most urban environments. (Product: Human Nature Collection)

When asked about what impact the global trend towards biophilia is having on the hospitality industry, Lorraine Francis, director of hospitality interiors for Gensler, takes a long pause. “I feel passionate about that and I have an idea about the design science of things, but I think it’s been hard to articulate within the hospitality market.” She cites studies that have been done for the healthcare sector that examine how certain healing and wellness initiatives make financial sense by resulting in less PTO, for example. But when it comes to hospitality, there is currently very little quantified evidence to support biophilia. Which is why Francis is embarking on a research project in collaboration with several industry peers to come up with the metrics to make that possible. The goal of this project boils down to figuring out how to measure comfort, which translates into longer stays and increases repeat business. “You know when you walk into a space and you feel good, and when you walk into a space and you feel like it’s too tall or too wide or there’s some mechanical thing overhead that makes you feel creepy,” she explains. “It’s really hard to express that feeling, but that’s exactly what we need to interpret for the hospitality industry, because this kind of very fundamental reaction is what affects loyalty and, ultimately, dollars.”

This means examining every part of the guest room experience, from the bed to the pillows to the alarm clock, and understanding how the neurological system is affected by a direct connection to nature, whether through a window view or a carpet design. Studies exist that look at the number of steps taken to complete certain tasks; track where people gravitate to in a room; and determine where they sleep better. But Francis also sees the need to understand how this plays out in lobbies and indoor/outdoor public spaces. “How do you get around those long corridors? How do you let light in?” The answers to these questions are sure to illuminate a new, nature-inspired path in hospitality design—one that leads to a more efficient, more sustainable and much more comfortable world. One key touchpoint for Francis is Bill Browning’s 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, published in 2014 by Terrapin Bright Green, which thoughtfully expounds upon “the relationships between nature, human biology and the design of the built environment.” To facilitate the transition from research to application, it posits a system of patterns that encourages the widespread design implementation of biophilia. “The way that Bill looked at biophilic design for office spaces is a model for our approach to hospitality,” says Francis, “and we need to make biophilia a bigger part of the conversation in this industry.”

hospitality guest room

Measuring the comfort of a space means examining every part of the guest room experience and understanding how the neurological system is affected by a direct connection to nature, whether through a window view or a carpet design. (Product: Springtime in Paris)

At Gensler, Francis oversees a multimillion-dollar design business that includes projects like the $40-million renovation and ballroom addition at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, AZ, and the $15-million public space renovation at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu Beach, HI. She got her start as an engineer and worked for Gensler earlier in her career before founding her own company, Càdiz Collaboration, to provide architectural, interior design and green consulting services to major spas and hospitality brands such as Xanterra Parks & Resorts, for whose El Tovar Hotel she sourced all materials within 500 miles of the property’s location on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

A major proponent of sustainability, Francis is a thought leader when it comes to calibrating the ideal balance between environmental awareness, powerful design and the bottom line. In an effort to make progressive movement in greening the hospitality industry, she founded Hotels+Green. This forum for sharing tips, case studies and best practices helps hospitality professionals stay current on sustainability trends and understand why sustainable hotels not only don’t cost more but can lead to savings, profitability and increased brand loyalty.

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Connection to Nature – An Interview with Sir Cary Cooper


As some of the world’s most forward-thinking designs seek to integrate the efficient ingenuity of some of Nature’s rarer creations, the case for incorporating the most basic of natural elements – sunlight and green plants – has reemerged with renewed vigor.

Equal Measure

Workplaces that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, can increase productivity levels.

The findings of a survey of 7,600 workers in 16 countries led by Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University and co-founder of Robertson-Cooper, make the unambiguous case for biophilia in the workplace. According to the survey, workplaces that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, report productivity levels 6 percent higher than those without these elements.

The productivity boost adds up to compelling numbers. According to one example in Cooper’s report, while it can cost about $1,000 to shift the position of a workstation in one office so that an employee’s peripheral vision can take in the window view, the resulting 6 percent increase in the employee’s call processing capacity equaled about a $3,000 return.

Human Spaces Report

Source: Human Spaces Report

Still, only 42 percent of the employees surveyed report having live plants in their offices and 47 percent report having no natural light. “Working in an office is not where we come from,” said Cooper. “Offices are intrinsically antithetical to our nature.” It’s not surprising that the advantages of biophilia in the workplace don’t equate exclusively to the hard measure of productivity gains. Employees in the Robertson-Cooper survey reported a 15 percent increase in creativity, along with a 15 percent higher level of well-being when working in spaces with natural elements—two measures typically associated with job satisfaction and engagement. Perhaps most remarkable about the survey results was their consistency, said Cooper. The countries included in the survey are at varying stages of urbanization, and though some preferred greenery and others water ponds or sunlight, the longing to bring the outside inside and the corresponding boons to productivity, creativity and well-being were universal.

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Biomimicry & The Biomimetic Office Building


An Interview with Michael Pawlyn, Architect & Author

In The Biomimetic Office Building, lighting takes its inspiration from the translucent four-eyed spookfish and a spindly-legged cousin of the starfish, the brittle star, both deep ocean dwellers. The building’s glazed glass exterior nods to a mollusk’s iridescent shell, while our own double duty spinal column is echoed in support columns that also encase the building’s energy systems.

To Biomimetic Office Building designer, architect Michael Pawlyn, the natural world teems with models of brilliant design efficiency. Pawlyn’s book, Biomimicry in Architecture, inspired and challenged architects, urban designers and product designers to look to Nature for beautiful models of resource efficiency.

It also called for them to move beyond sustainability, which Pawlyn characterized as “minimizing the negatives,” primarily of resource and energy consumption, versus the regenerative model that is biomimicry. The Biomimetic Office Building is the latest project undertaken by Pawlyn and his Exploration Architecture team. The design, which uses biomimicry to rethink the workplace into a self-heated, self-cooled, self-ventilated, day-lit structure that is also a net producer of energy, will strengthen the case for biomimicry by drawing a brighter line between restorative, responsible design and cost savings. In addition to biomimicry, the project incorporates the principles of psychologist, Craig Knight, such as plants in the workplace, to address employee well-being, job satisfaction and productivity.

Biomimetic Office Building

The Biomimetic Office Building uses biomimicry to rethink the workplace.

“The design debate has shifted over the last 10 to 15 years from resource and energy saving to improved productivity,” said Pawlyn. While upon completion the Biomimetic Office Building promises to be one of the world’s lowest energy office buildings, energy costs are tiny compared to employee costs, such as salaries. And according to Pawlyn, design of The Biomimetic Office will maximize substantial human resource investments through gains in productivity of as much as 25 percent.

This grounded, practical cost-benefit equation, however, belies the project’s ingeniously fantastic soul. The building infrastructure, for example, is modeled on the bone structure of birds and cuttlefish. Everything about a bird must be light, strong and efficient to enable flight. While delicate, bird bones are actually far from fragile. In particular, their skulls are made from multiple layers of very thin bone. The layers lend strength without the added weight that could impede flight. Similarly, the layers that comprise cuttlefish bones vary to add reinforcement only where the animal needs it for movement, support or protection.

In bird skulls and cuttlefish bones, Pawlyn found that “complex forms that use minimal materials in exactly the right place,” is often the operating principle in Nature, and their ingenuity was incorporated into key structural components of the Biomimetic Office Building, the floor slabs and columns. Sections of the floor that will be “working hard” by taking on more of the stress of the structure and weight will need denser concentrations of concrete. Columns and floor slabs earmarked for lighter duty can be hollow, their voids used for secondary purposes, such as, housing wiring or temperature control components.

skull & shell

The building infrastructure is modeled on the bone structure of birds and cuttlefish. The glazed glass exterior nods to a mollusk’s iridescent shell.

For further temperature control, the building design calls for intricate, identical shades, able to respond automatically and, if necessary, separately to changes in light the way plants such as the mimosa pudica, or sensitive plant, and Venus flytrap move in response to touch or other external stimulation. Another tropical plant variety, the epiphytic anthurium, which grows on other plants close to the rain forest floor and efficiently captures and makes use of scarce sunlight, is providing food for thought for a subsequent phase of the Biometric Office Building design.

In consultation with work space designers and psychologists, biologists and even primatologists, Pawlyn and Exploration Architecture continue to seek innovative design solutions that draw upon the billions of years of wisdom found in Nature, challenging not just our thinking about the final product or outcome, but the very process by which we arrive there.

“Don’t start with reality, start by identifying the ideal and then compromise as little as necessary to meet constraints of budget and buildability,” says Pawlyn. “If you don’t start by identifying the ideal then you’re very unlikely to find breakthrough ideas.”

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Natural Healing with Biophilia

Jean Nayar

Five expert approaches to improving health and well-being through biophilia and nature

If there’s truth to the adage that we’re all products of our environment, then it makes good sense to ensure the spaces we work in are as conducive to bringing out the best in us as possible. There’s a lot of buzz in design circles these days around the idea of biophilia—the notion that humans possess an instinctive tendency to seek out connections with nature and other forms of life. Described in 1973 by the German-born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive,” and expanded on in 1984 by American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who proposed that the human proclivity to affiliate with nature and other forms of life is based, in part, on genetics, biophilia has become the foundation for a movement among proponents of sustainable design to incorporate aspects of nature into products and spaces to support a sense of well-being that’s vital to human health and productivity. There’s also a growing body of anecdotal and scientific research that validates the benefits generated by a proximity to nature—or elements that mimic it—and supports the trend toward nature-centric design. Read on for five expert design strategies that rely on nature or biomimicry to enhance our health and well-being in built environments.

Cultivate a green wall. Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses by bringing color and dimension to lobbies, atriums, and other communal spaces, they also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and other toxic gasses and replacing them with life-giving oxygen. As an alternative to green walls composed of grasses, succulents, and other plants, Joseph Zazzera, a certified biomimicry professional, LEED AP ID+C, provisional WELL AP, and co-owner of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Plant Solutions, suggests installing a low-maintenance green wall made of moss and lichens, which Buddhist monks began to cultivate a thousand years ago in temples or on stones and walls to turn their attention away from daily distractions and facilitate meditation. When their varying textures and chartreuse, olive, soft gray, and pale green hues are coalesced within a framed composition, maintained with a patented preservation process, and mounted on a wall, mosses and lichens also engage the eye like an abstract painting. “We think of these as biomimicry art pieces, connecting us to our human nature and innate love of living things,” says Zazzera. “Each one is like a shrine at the edge of the wilderness between our offices and our primeval nature.”

moss art

Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses but also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. Image credit: ©Plant Solutions

Consider the senses. Nature-inspired elements that we can see, hear, smell, or feel can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress. A work space that supports eye health, for example, should allow for depth of view beyond computer screen of at least 20 feet, but ideally 60-100+ feet, to allow eye muscles to completely relax and prevent prolonged ocular stress, according to Chris Garvin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, and managing partner with Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consulting and strategic planning firm. “If you have manual controls for window blinds, be sure to use them and not keep the blinds down out of forgetfulness,” Garvin says, who also advises incorporating the sound of running water in work spaces as well. “Trickling or gurgling water can contribute to concentration and stress reduction,” he explains. “A small desktop fountain can cost as little as $10.” To address the sense of touch, Garvin recommends incorporating a sense of “thermal variability,” in air flow or temperature “either through manual controls, operable windows, an oscillating small desktop fan, or material choices with different thermal qualities—including a mix of metal, wood, fabric and other material surfaces.”

woman looking through blinds

Nature-inspired elements can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress.

Echo Nature’s textures, forms, and patterns. From crystals and leaves to seashells and snowflakes, the naturally occurring forms in nature are built upon patterns that humans instinctively respond to in a positive way. The late designer Buckminster Fuller looked to these patterns as the ultimate source of inspiration in his whole-systems approach to problem solving. “Fuller was impressed with how efficient nature is in her use of materials,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “As a result, none of his structures have right angles because nature doesn’t use them—natural forms are all based on the triangle and tetrahedron,” she adds. When surrounded by structures or elements based on such patterns, she explains, “you feel something that has a resonance with the natural world.” The use of biomorphic forms, or forms that mimic those in nature, has been found to reduce stress and increase visual preference, concurs Garvin. “This would also include the use of fractal ratios and other patterns that occur within nature,” he notes. The flooring options in Interface’s Human Nature™ collection of modular carpet tile, for example, trigger positive signals in the brain by bringing a sense of nature underfoot with both textures and patterns that emulate moss, sand, gravel, and other natural surfaces.

Human Nature

The flooring options in Interface’s Human Nature trigger positive signals in the brain by bringing a sense of nature underfoot with both textures and patterns that emulate moss, sand, gravel, and other natural surfaces.

Open a window on the world. As workspaces shrink to reduce carbon footprints and limit energy and real estate costs, designers, facility managers, and corporate decision-makers have found that introducing a view onto a natural setting can compensate for a perceived loss of space. As an example, Lindsay James, a certified biomimicry professional and vice president of restorative enterprise for Interface, points to furniture manufacturer Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan, where more traditional offices were exchanged for updated smaller-scale open workspaces, and an enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views. “An early post-occupancy survey revealed a negative response at first, as workers felt the space to be more crowded, but over time a family of wild turkeys moved in to the prairie and people began to check daily on the eggs as they were nurtured and hatched,” she explains. “After workers reconnected to the rhythm of life, positive responses went up dramatically in a subsequent survey as they found unexpected fulfillment in witnessing nature at a slow pace,” she adds. “As we see nature unfolding over the seasons, we are reminded on a daily basis of how the bigger picture can affect our world view and reinforce the feeling that we’re connected to all life on the planet.”

Haworth headquarters

Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan exchanged more traditional offices for updated smaller-scale open workspaces. An enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views. Image credit: Haworth

Follow the light. “Daylight, with a sky view and exposure to natural diurnal patterns, supports concentration during the day and helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms,” says Garvin. “When quality daylight isn’t possible, one strategy is task-ambient electric circadian lighting design with biologically-correct LED light bulbs for task lamps.”

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