When was the last time you felt connected to the world around you?
When the presence of nature was undeniable, even with your eyes closed? Most people have to make a special occasion for it, like a vacation to the tropics, or a weekend camping trip, and there’s a reason we use our limited free time yearning for the outdoors. Our minds and bodies are ingrained with the knowledge that life breeds life, that we are capable of thriving if our environment is flourishing. While we have thrived outside of our natural habitat for enough time to become accustomed, does not mean we can’t still benefit from its effect on us. The feeling of bliss when we escape the bleak man-made environments we live and work in is universal, so why not remove the need to escape?
A Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies by the name of Dr. Stephen R. Kellert has revolved his research around this very feeling, the concept of biophilia, becoming one of the leading researchers on the topic. One of his many books, titled “Nature by Design: The Practice of Biophilia” demonstrates that everyone feels a certain level of serenity, calm, and safety when surrounded by life. He attributes this to what he calls the “eight biophilic values”, each bringing forth their own benefits and unique familiarity of living in nature. He strongly believes that we can feel this bliss in our homes every day, but only if these values are practiced as much as possible. Kellert’s eight values explain which aspects of natural life appeal to our instincts, and how they effectively remind us of a natural world.
Dr. Kellert explains these values as:
- Affection: when natural life appeals to our desire to form emotional attachments
- Attraction: our innate magnetism towards beauty
- Aversion: the instinct to avoid natural dangers
- Control: our desire to master nature
- Exploitation: utilizing the natural world for tools or resources
- Intellect: using nature to advance our thought and understanding
- Symbolism: the ability to communicate using the image of nature
- Spirituality: the tendency to feel a sense of meaning, and “connection to creation” in the presence of nature
It's All About Connection
In essence, the more integrated life and natural materials are into our everyday routines, the more we strengthen the bond with our natural selves. One or two natural features in our home aren't enough, as they provide too isolated connections. The more of these values we can adopt into our day to day lives, the more we get to experience these feelings of serenity. As much as this may seem complicated to accomplish, there are three simple elements that break these values down to their core implication.
The first element being anything from nature that we directly come into contact with, such as light, air, water, fire, plants, or animals. This is typically as far as most people think to go in regards to adopting biophilia, and as much as it is a largely important one, it cannot do all the work on its own. This leads us to the second element, of the indirect experiences that come from using parts of the natural world in a way unique from its original state. This can be in the form of artwork that vividly depicts scenes of nature or artwork that is directly made from scenes of nature. The final element comes from how we experience the space we live in without biophilic design. In other words, when the space in a home is utilized in a creative and organized way before implementing biophilia, the flow of life feels much more natural, very similar to the logic of feng shui.
The eight biophilic values and its three simplified elements open a lot of doors to getting creative with home biophilia, a whole new chapter of interior design to explore. Many architects have turned their focus to building biophilic homes, integrating biophilia into every aspect of the building process. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t adopt similar ideas into a typical home. For instance, when it comes to buying new plants and flora, consider picking up plants that are able to be used for food or medicine, such as an aloe plant for burns. This way, the greenery that adds to your overall scenery, therefore appealing to our affection and attraction values, also engages our control and exploitation values.
A practical application of this knowledge is to create art and decorations for the home using natural elements found outdoors. Making a coat rack out of driftwood not only gives natural elements a practical use, but it also ties natural elements into the home in a seamless way. Simple lake rocks can be transformed into an indoor water feature, invigorating the sense of sight as well as sound. Old flowers and herbs repurposed for potpourri to mimic the smell of a garden, even something as simple as leaving doors and windows open to allow for natural light change to showcase the progression of the day. That’s not to mention the feeling of a light breeze when allowed to brush over our skin.
The possibilities are endless, especially when each home provides its own unique opportunities for creativity. The biggest things to consider are how many senses are being stimulated, and how organic the stimuli is, how reminiscent of the natural world. The connections between each biophilic value that your home makes, strengthen your connection to the outdoors, and to your instincts.
Biophila is More Than Just Design
Bringing natural life into our daily routines can make a day off at home feel like a vacation, invoking the same feelings of peace and relaxation, without the need to pack up and travel for hours at a time. Imagine closing your eyes and getting the same sense of nature, the same sounds, smells, and feelings as you would in the woods, all while sitting on your couch. Having this peace all around you has been proven to increase productivity, mood, healing, and overall happiness. Biophilia may feel like a luxury for these reasons, but it’s easily obtained for anybody willing to make minor changes to their homes.