Biophilia is a term used to describe our instinctive human attraction to the living world and has recently become an important aspect in venue design. The term was first used by Erich Fromm in the 1960s to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. In his book Biophilia (1984), American biologist Professor E. O. Wilson hypothesized that humans possess ‘an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life’. ‘Because the living environment is what really sustains us’.
Since the industrial revolution and mass migration to urban centres, our connection with nature has gradually diminished. We travel to work underground; to artificially lit, grey, airless, windowless boxes; to spend hours staring at a screen; in towns and cities where the value of green has become outweighed by the value of real estate. This man-made existence fights against our biophilic tendencies rooted in our human biology and could explain why so many seek to escape their urban lives for the sanctuary of the countryside or coast. Work related stress and anxiety is the leading cause for ill-health and sickness absence in Britain. Stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 17.9 million lost working days in 2019/20.
Our need to embrace nature and the associated benefits have been discussed widely. In 2021, a report by the Mental Health Foundation surmised that ‘Our relationship with nature – how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings – is a critical factor in supporting good mental health and preventing distress’..
There have been numerous studies into the positive impact that having close contact with nature can have on our physical and mental health, wellbeing and performance. Reduced stress and anxiety, increased happiness, relief from mental tiredness and improvement to our focus and attention span. A relaxing walk in the woods, an invigorating run in the park or a refreshing swim in the sea can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate. Research by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in 2009 concluded that ‘an environment devoid of Nature may act as a discord’ (ie. Have a negative effect).
But for those of us who do not have regular access to large green or blue spaces, how do we connect with nature?
Throughout human history we have had a predisposition to nature; bringing plants into our homes, displaying landscape paintings and drawings of the natural world and coveting ownership of green spaces. Artists and designers have drawn on nature for inspiration for many thousands of years and there have been widespread campaigns since the nineteenth century for the need for greenspaces in urban landscapes for health reasons.
As the biophilic design movement has gathered momentum architects around the world have developed structures and interiors incorporating natural elements that bring their inhabitants closer to nature in their life and work. Natural lighting and ventilation, living walls, roof gardens and organic materials often feature in modern architectural design. The simple inclusion of a garden and windows in a venue design scheme can enable inhabitants to access daylight, helping our circadian rhythms to function. Consideration of airflow and temperature and incorporating water and plant life into interior design can all positively influence feelings of comfort and relaxation whilst reducing stress and fatigue, promoting healing and encouraging focus, creativity and concentration.
If you lack the budget for a ‘Grand Designs’ abode, introducing pot plants to your living and working spaces, switching off artificial lights and enjoying the natural light from windows, incorporate features such as natural wood and organic fibres and stepping outside everyday can all help you achieve a happier existence. Nature is everywhere, even in concrete jungles!
With wellbeing high on everyone’s agenda after the last two years, how do we incorporate Biophilia to hospitality and events?
Biophilic Weddings and Events
For many couples an outdoor wedding is their dream. A warm Summer’s day, within a verdant garden surrounded by fragrant flowers; a woodland setting immersed in bird song and tree creatures; or on a beach, sand between your toes, listening to the waves lapping the shore. A multi-sensory experience of natural views, scents, textures and sounds.
Venues that can offer a direct connection to nature are in high demand. Draw attention to your garden or woodland ceremony spaces, natural vistas, proximity to water and any near-by wildlife.
Indoor or more urban venues can also create a connection with nature using the natural textures of stone and wood in their interior venue design and furnishings combined with plenty of natural light, good air flow and thermal balance.
Wildflowers and foliage, potted trees, rustic furniture, reclaimed wood, natural fabrics, fire and candlelight all add to indoor biophilic ambience.
Wellbeing events are becoming more popular than ever. Organisers want to create a successful event and will be looking for venues that ideally offer the benefits of outdoor spaces and connection with nature. Outdoor yoga workshops, mindfulness retreats, and wellness festivals will actively incorporate aspects of biophilia to their programmes.
Companies wanting to unite their workforce again after lockdown and homeworking are looking for inspiring venues and activities that will rejuvenate their team. Outdoor pursuits that offer them the opportunity to bond in nature are highly coveted.
Biophilic Venue Design
Temporary canvas structures such as marquees, tipis and yurts all offer a biophilic advantage. A portable venue design that can be erected in any outdoor space, offering direct contact with nature and the opportunity and freedom to create a totally immersive natural experience.
Tipi Spaces hire ivory-white tipis and tents for weddings and events in the West Country. Director Shane Martin says, “The idea for creating outdoor wedding venues was born out of our own love for outdoor adventures, gatherings and celebrations. At home in the garden, at festivals or remote spots around the UK and further afield. We have lots of happy memories of spending time with family and friends outdoors, playing music, telling stories and sharing a meal around a fire and beneath a starlit sky. Uniting all these experiences has been the element of space in nature and freedom beyond the confines of indoors.”
Permanent venues can also offer a deep connection with nature. The Gillyflower at Elmore Court is a “future-rustic” dinner and dancing venue that has been designed with biophilic principles at its heart. Walls made from Rammed Earth, timber sustainably sourced directly from their own woodlands, floor to ceiling windows that frame the countryside views and a meadow roof that blends the building with the surrounding nature.
In-Spira are innovative company based in East Sussex specialising in the design and manufacture of garden rooms. Their venue design is based on biophilic and organic principles that compliment the natural landscape. Their original design is based on Fibonacci’s sequence which is used to describe certain shapes in nature such as shells, sunflowers and galaxies. Their rooms are flexible and can be designed to make any shape or size to fit a specific purpose or location whether it is a home office or art studio, sleeping accommodation or meeting room. The curved walls wrap around you creating a cocoon and providing a feeling of security. The timber interior and exterior blend into the natural environment providing a visual, tactile and olfactory connection with nature. The room captures natural light from the roof-light above and the windows framing the views outside. Chief designer, Brian Martin: “Biophilic design allows us to create working and studio spaces that take cues from nature, natural forms and environments and instil these qualities in the room itself promoting wellbeing on a number of metrics and leading to better focus and creativity”.
Camping and glamping accommodation come in all shapes and sizes offering guests the opportunity to connect with nature and detach from the artificial world. There have been some extraordinary and inspired biophilic design developments in the past few years from hanging tree pods to floating cabins and earth burrows.
Secret Water at Hippersons Boatyard in Suffolk are the first luxury floating glamping pods in the UK offering a unique biophilic experience. They provide direct access to the Southern Broads for you to immerse yourself in river-life.
The Glamping Burrows at The Quiet Site in the Lake District are large underground living spaces with views over the Ullswater Valley. Energy efficient, secure and virtually invisible, they offer true sustainable accommodation for the most discerning eco-hobbits.
The Tree Tent at Pennard Hill Farm in Somerset is a suspended spherical structure strung between two trees overlooking the Mendip Hills, enabling you to truly get amongst the birds in this beautiful woodland setting.
Biophilia and Sustainability
The best thing about Biophilia trend is that it goes hand-in-hand with sustainability. By adding more nature to our lives, we reduce our reliance on our man-made lifestyle. By embracing the natural world and enabling more human connection with nature we are creating opportunities for people to be inspired to help preserve the natural world whilst supporting their own wellbeing. As E.O Wilson proclaimed, ‘Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction’.
For more helpful ideas on how you can transform your venue, please do get in touch.