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Biophilic Design in Learning Spaces

Oliver Heath discusses the ideas behind Biophilic Design and how it impacts on learning.

Posted by Fiona Cowan | May 18, 2016 | People, policy, politics, money

The new frontline in sustainable building design has developed from carbon reduction to the creation of human-centred spaces that prioritise health & wellbeing. Through my research into the emerging science of Biophilic Design for www.humanspaces.com  I’ve discovered that enhancing these beneficial effects in the design of a range of building typologies can also create substantial economic advantages.

Biophilic design applies the principles that humans have an innate attraction to elements in the natural world and that increasing this connection to nature through design can improve our physiological and psychological health. So what would a Biophilic learning space look like?

Natural light in seminar spaces would be optimised as would views out to nature (whether this is gardens or window boxes). In one study of office workers, those with views of vegetation performed 10-25% better in mental function and memory recall tests.

There would be natural elements in the space such as plants, or materials like wooden tables and chairs. Areas would be divided up with a consideration of “whole human” needs for learning or cognitive restoration - research shows that tactile stimulation can be used to reduce stress, to energize or to relax (Spence, 2010).

In educational settings, Biophilic Design has the capacity to reduce stress levels whilst increasing focus and productivity. In fact, research shows that optimising exposure to daylight alone can increase the speed of learning by 20-26% (Wells & Evans, 2003).  It can also improve attendance by an average of 3.5 days/year and test scores by 5-14%. Features such as green walls can enhance a learning space visually, improve air quality which helps concentration and reduce distracting noise to improve acoustics in education spaces.

Some of these aspects may seem more feasible than others, especially with the pressure on time and resources within educational settings. However, trials demonstrate that something as simple as having plants in classrooms can lead to improved performance in science based subjects of 10-14% and that focusing on increased well being has the potential to improve satisfaction and retention of staff and students alike. Improving performance can reduce the cost to the institution of absenteeism, recruitment, additional staffing and support. With research demonstrating the extraordinary potential of this emerging trend in design, universities can’t afford to sit back and ignore the evidence.

Those at the vanguard of the business world such as Apple and Google are embracing Biophilic Design principles to improve productivity and well being, shouldn’t education too? 

Oliver Heath is an architect and interior designer. Find out more at www.humanspaces.com

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