Women & Design // WID Insights
4 walls, artificial lighting, glass windows, and false ceilings. We went from roaming freely in the vast endless grasslands to stuck enclosed in the concrete jungle we've created. Stepping outside, is not seen as a privilege we yearn to take advantage of.
Humans are inherently connected to nature. It's essential for us. When kept in captivity, or unable to go outside, we go crazy. Over the years, however, with the uproar of the Industrial revolution we've built more industrial and concrete jungles, as compared to real jungles. If you've ever noticed, whenever you go to restaurants, hotels, resorts (pre-pandemic, of course) - they all have some sort of greenery adding a much needed touch to their designed environment; be it some wall creeping vines, a nice big palm or succulents. Added along with the green touches, is ample light flowing through the spaces.
Now, every single house has some sort of plant in it, millennials are growing greener thumbs than the generations before them. We've all at some point admitted, we have a plant problem. And, it's true. We crave plants, we need them — we now know scientific assertions pushing this 'trend' proving the benefits of biophilia adaptations in this man-made concrete jungle we've created. Biophilic design is more than just a 'trend' however, it's based on the idea that humans have evolved over the many years present on this planet, in nature. We've spent "99% of our history in adaptive response to the natural world and not to human created or artificial forces." In other words, biophilia is an concept based on the idea that humans have evolved through millions of years in nature, and through sustenance they thrive in their deep rooted connection to it.
It's only recently, through the industrial revolution that we've strayed from nature. As a result, we've suffered from this well-intentioned distance. In the recent years (and I don't mean just 5-10), we've been doing a lot more work and not enough play. We're stuck in buildings enclosed within 4 walls, working under artificial lighting and not where we crave to be (probably in a park with a nice blooming cherry blossom laying on the grass. How dreamy that does sound in this moment!) Spending 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, roughly 50 weeks a year — it's affected our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
It's 2021, and a lot of people are direly campaigning for mental health. With the pandemic keeping us enclosed in isolation, and the inevitable lack of social interactions, mental and emotional well-being is crashing slowly. Currently majority of the world's population lives in urban environments, spending 80-90% of their time indoors. This, undoubtedly is an unhealthy side effect of our societal behaviors. In the recent years, there's been a clear upward trend chasing biophillic design integrations in modern day built environments. From natural air and light, to plants and life, be it inside or outside. It's everywhere. Why, you ask? It's simple; plants act as enhancers for creativity, performance and productivity - and they're so incredibly calming and refreshing. But biophilic design doesn't just limit itself to plants, taking into consideration water, air and plethora of natural lighting, it helps build a natural ambience and brings a small bit of home to the modern day infrastructures humans have so proudly built. Be it the Burj Khalifa, or your small, but cozy apartment in literally any city in the world, you're bound to see stimulations of the natural environment somewhere (big windows, great views, plants, mini man-made lakes and waterfalls, you name it).
Interestingly, while I was listening to the "Stuff you should know" podcast's episode on Biophilic design they talked about how the living plant walls in your fancy hotels and restaurants come from re-designed zoo enclosures back in the 90s. A movement that pushed to have zoo enclosures resemble 'natural' simulated environments as opposed to the cages that they previously used. And when you think about it, and truly understand the meaning of this, it's rather eye-opening wouldn't you say? Are we, as humans, misguidedly designing a 'free' world? An interesting thought I'd leave up to you to decide. You may argue that when we think of animals, we do picture them in vast grasslands or savannas enjoying their freedom. But, when you picture a human, you view them in artificial surroundings working in a business suit. The theory of Biophilia argues that the savanna is where we evolved from. When you picture nature, you're bound to picture a vast open grassland with a lake or some form of water body running nearby with birds chirping and freedom in each step. That is our idyllic environment, but over the years we've forced ourselves to evolve to live in homes lacking natural airflow, living under artificial light, and surrounding ourselves with materials that further our disconnect from nature. Despite its multiple advantages, technology has played a prominent role in our disconnect from nature.
Coming back to the savanna hypothesis, looking at the Changi airport in Singapore, with the high ceilings in the atriums, circulating with greens and a large water fountain, it's astonishing to see how spaces are designed for us to feel comfortable in, without us even knowing the real reasons. Just adding these basic building blocks of biophyscial design, they've managed to create an atmosphere for us that resembles our places of origin. "You want to see the forest, not the trees when you're creating biophilia design, they kind of have to fit together correctly in an intuitive manner or else that innate sense that evolved in the savanna that's logged in or of our brains". We're smart enough to know what is real and what is fake, and the benefit supporting successful biophilic design may not work, and in fact may even have a negative benefit if not done correctly.
Make the indoors, the great outdoors. Despite our continuous efforts, we're still very much stuck indoors if we like it or not. And I feel for you, it truly does feel like we're stuck. But, if I've learned anything over the little years I've spent pursuing my agenda of making my house a home, it's that something is better than nothing. I'm sure even just seeing a small potted plant or a few greens in your room still produces the benefits linked with biophilia. For me, even the red 'mitti' pots are enough to feel at ease (despite how aesthetic IKEA pots can be). This is the beginning of the end, a muted cry for help opposing the industrial lifestyle. People are leaning more and more towards natural elements, both in products, lifestyles, everything. So, if you're like me thinking you've got a growing plant problem; it's not. You're just re-working and re-designing your space to feel like home 💚🌿
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With 🧡 Team WID.