BIOPHILIA & BIOPHOBIA

‘We all appreciate the joys of nature, whether on a window sill or in parks and gardens. People directly benefit from access to nature; it affects our senses and our well-being. The instinct to nurture plants lies at the root of the Biophilia Hypothesis’  (1).

Biophilia, meaning a love for nature, is a hypothesis that was devised by social psychologist, Erich Fromm, in 1973 and first theorised by Harvard professor, E. O. Wilson In 1984. Fromm coined the term as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive” (2). Wilson claimed that humans have an “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” (3). Biophilia “is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” as a result of evolution (4). Both agree that biophillia is a sign of mental and physical health and is genetically predisposed. It is this natural relationship that connects us to living things.

We, as humans today, depend on nature for support and have a desire to reconnect with it. This is because of the specific features that once enhanced the survival of the human race, and the intricate links between our mind, behaviour and nature. Psychologist, J. Heerwagen, has focused her research on the relationship between buildings and psychological well-being, she argues that “biophilia evolved to guide functional behaviors associated with finding, using, and enjoying natural resources that aided survival and reproductive fitness—and avoiding those that are harmful.” Heerwagen supports my previous point as she suggests that biophilia “evolved as an adaptive mechanism to protect people from hazards and to help them access such resources as food, water, and shelter”(5).

Research shows that incorporating the natural environment into buildings can have a positive influence on psychological, physical and social well-being. Various studies show, for instance, that window views of natural landscapes reduce stress, trees and outdoor gathering spaces are associated with increased social interactions and sense of community, and recovery from surgery is aided by natural sunlight and nature views (6). Even though we now live predominantly with a concrete infrastructure, dominated by the proliferation of buildings, multicultural evidence suggests that design decisions are being made to adopt savannah like environments, as these are highly preferred. I believe that this is important due to the loss of green spaces in making way for the inflation of new builds. Commonly, natural aesthetic amenities incorporated into designs include large trees and plants, water features, changes in elevation, atriums and viewing ledges, open plan spaces, multiple view corridors, comfortable retreats, daylight and an interior ‘sky’ created through the use of sky lights and high ceilings.

Despite the positive attributes, not everyone adopts the idea of biophilia. Aversion to nature is generally the fears and anxieties within us that stem from the hazards associated with nature, also known as biophobia. D. W. Orr stated, “Biophobia ranges from discomfort in “natural” places to active scorn for whatever is not manmade, managed, or air-conditioned. Biophobia, in short, is the culturally acquired urge to affiliate with technology, human artifacts, and solely with human interests regarding the natural world”(6).Our physiological response to these fears and anxieties are also as a result of evolution, derived from what our ancestors were vulnerable of. Common cognitive uncertainties associated with the environment include heights, enclosed spaces, darkness, being in the open without protective cover and being alone in an unfamiliar place. For most, we respond to these conditions with avoidance or dislike but for others, the implications are much worse and so their intolerance of uncertainty leads to anxiety. The challenge therefore, is to incorporate the positive biophillic features of our close bond with nature into buildings, whilst avoiding biophobic conditions.

There are positive benefits to having nature integrated into our lives so why do we intuitively tear down greenery when it grows in the form of ivy up the side of a building for example? I mean, there are walls where the planting has grown on its own accord that no one has paid anything for, yet green walls are becoming more in demand at such a high cost. It is poetic how nature can take over a thing, consume it and dominate it, what place do we have in that? Why tear down natural green walls? More than ever we dwell in and among our own creations and are increasingly uncomfortable with nature lying beyond our direct control.

I believe that there is this instinctive urge to connect with nature (biophilia) which is a part of our heritage and plays a large role in human psychology. “The sundry denotations – which have evolved from within the fields of biology and psychology, and been adapted to the fields of neuroscience, endocrinology, architecture and beyond – all relate back to the desire for a (re)connection with nature and natural systems” (7). However, I believe that there is more to it than just a connection to our ancestral habitat.

Because of our innate love for nature, their positive benefits and the escapism that they naturally offer, I can conclude that planting should be considered in the future of design; to integrate the positive features of our evolved biophilia into buildings. As the world population continues to urbanise, green spaces are being minimised. “If we complete the destruction of nature, we will have succeeded in cutting ourselves off from the source of sanity itself. Hermetically sealed amidst our creations and bereft of those of The Creation, the world then will reflect only the demented image of the mind imprisoned within itself (7).

References

(1) Muldoon, T. (April 28, 2014) Planning for RHS Chelsea 2014: 3 Weeks to go. [Online] Available from: https://enterprisechelsea2014.wordpress.com/

[Accessed 25th March 2015].

(2) Fromm, E. (1973) The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

(3)Wilson, E. O. (1984) Biophilia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

(4)Kellert, S. and Wilson, E. (1993). The Biophilia hypothesis. Washington, D.C: Island Press.

(5)Kellert, S., Heerwagen, J. and Mador, M. (2008). Biophilic design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

(6) Orr, D. (1994). Excerpt from Earth in mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect - Love it or Lose it: The Coming Biophilia Revolution. Washington, DC: Island Press.

(7)Browning, W. D., Ryan, C. O. and Clancy, J. O. (2014). 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. New York: Terrapin Bright Green, LLC.