Most of us are familiar with the idea that spending time in nature is good for us, and that having access to nature in our workspaces and home spaces is increasingly important for our wellbeing. But perhaps not many of us know about biophilia and biophilic design. In this blog, we’ll explore what biophilic design is and why it can be one of the simplest yet most impactful ways to elevate an event experience.
Biophilia is the term given to describe humans innate biological connection with nature. The term emerged in the fields of biology and psychology and was later adapted for other fields such as neuroscience and architecture. Biophilic design became the strategy for incorporating nature into the built environment and a way to alleviate workplace stress, support performance, health, and community cohesiveness1.
The evidence supporting biophilia shows nature has an impact our cognitive, psychological, and physiological function.
These cognitive, psychological and physiological responses1 that we have around nature act as a ‘buffer’ to the stress we experience. Our bodies are designed to experience stress and mobilise in response before then returning to our baseline state before the stress occurred. Recovery from stress and returning to this baseline, completing the ‘loop’ of the stress response, can be assisted by being present to nature and engaging this buffering. We know that having a sustained stress response is not healthy for our nervous systems and can make our tolerance window to stress grow smaller if there’s ongoing inadequate recovery.2
The good news is, we can influence and help our bodies’ innate recovery abilities and build healthy windows of tolerance to the stresses of life. Being exposed to nature and bringing it into our environments is one such way, and we don’t need large spaces to do so. The psychological benefits of being exposed to nature increase with higher diversity rather than larger size, so small or micro-restorative experiences that are biodiverse are particularly effective for a restorative biophilic experience. A moment of sensory contact with nature through a window, TV screen, image, painting, water fountain or aquarium is enough to have an effect, and this is particularly useful in urban environments where sensory overload is common. Water also offers multi-sensory benefits. Seeing and hearing the same water feature on repeated occasions doesn’t diminish water’s impact on soothing stress, enhancing mood and restoring us after cognitive fatigue. A single, small nature feature can be adequate (Biederman & Vessel, 2006).
In the retail setting, evidence shows customers judge businesses surrounded by nature and natural features to be worthy of prices up to 25% higher than businesses with no access to nature. In healthcare settings, patients with a view to nature rather than just a wall are more likely to experience hospital stays that are 8.5% shorter3. One study also revealed that following a forest walk, men showed increased immune function for 30 days, while for women the effect was only seen for 6 days. This may mean women would benefit from prioritised indoor nature experiences or access to more prolonged outdoor experiences (Li, et al, 2012).
It’s good to note, too, that biophilic design is not the same as a Green Star Design (LEED certified) space. While sustainably designed buildings are essential for our world, a building or space that meets these requirements may not have the benefits of biophilic design or necessarily be comfortable and productive. Anecdotally, this writer has worked in a brilliant LEED certified high-rise office but with few windows, less natural light and no views of nature in order to save energy, the effect was soporific rather than supporting focus and productivity!
Biophilic design shows us that incorporating a few simple elements of nature into an event space really can make a difference and enhance the wellbeing and enjoyment of guests and audiences.
With just a few small considerations, you can harness the power of biophilia and the power of our senses and leverage this for event success. There’s clear evidence behind the benefits. We hope our recent blog series on sensory event design inspires your creative thinking and planning and brings new insight on how to deliver an exceptional event experience.
1. Terrapin Bright Green LLC Study, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,
2. Porges, Stephen. Pocket Guide to the Poly-Vagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. Norton Agency Publishers, September 5, 2017 (1st ed)
Biederman, I. & E. Vessel (2006). Perceptual Pleasure & the Brain. American Scientist, 94(1), 249-255. 31 64 66 73
3. McKinley, Shawna. The Benefits of Nature Based Event Design, September 23, 2015.
Li, Q., M. Kobayashi, H. Inagaki, Y. Wakayama, M. Katsumata, Y. Hirata, Y. Li, K. Hirata, T. Shimizu, A. Nakadai, & T. Kawada (2012). Effect of Phytoncides from Forest Environments on Immune Function. In Q. Li (Ed.). Forest Medicine (157-167). ebook: Nova Science Publishers. 39
Fetching Events & Communications is a boutique agency that works with the community, for the community, specialising in project management, event management, communications and volunteer engagement. Combining our international event experience in media with our communications knowledge and skills, Fetching Events & Communications provides a fully integrated events, volunteer engagement and communications service.