Biophilia is a word that has been cropping up a lot recently, and not only as the album title for the undoubtedly bonkers but distinctly brilliant Icelandic singer Bjork’s most recent album. It’s a hot buzzword in the sustainability field. So what does it mean? Put as succinctly as possible it’s “The basic need for human contact with nature” and isn’t a new word at all having been coined by biologist and Pulitzer prize winner Edward Wilson in his 1984 book “Biophilia”. Interestingly, a “philia” is the polar opposite of a phobia, so rather than an aversion or fear of objects in the natural world- a philia is the positive feeling and attraction to nature. Guy and I have the distinct pleasure of mixing with some fantastic innovators and visionaries across a mix of industries in design and greenbuilding and taking inspiration from some of these leading edge concepts. We’ve seen that biophilia is increasingly being considered in the design of new buildings and covers such basic areas as having a good view of natural scenery and access to daylight through to more innovative live biowalls inside buildings. The most striking biowall I’ve come across recently was at the Sky Comwell hotel in Copen
hagen where they’d thought “inside the box” and brought the biowall into the building, more precisely- the breakfast room (see right).
It’s become clear that urbanization has taken us far down a lonely path away from nature and sustainable cities of the future are ones that correct that balance and feature nature strongly, be it as simple as a community garden to something more radical like the New York Highline Park turning a derelict Manhattan railway line into a natural shangri la in the city (www.thehighline.org).
A biophilic future
Smart urban planners and architects are “bringing the outdoors inside” and it’s a good thing all round- the evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of nature is mounting and impressive – research shows its ability to reduce stress, aid recovery from illness, to enhance cognitive skills and academic performance and aid in moderating the effects of autism and other child illnesses. But I’m wondering- how did we get to the stage where we needed academics to remind us that we innately love and need nature?