Nature Meets Nurture: The Role of Biophilic Design in Learning Spaces
Running as fast as you can across school fields, collecting flowers to make daisy chains, and coming home with grass stains on your school trousers are as important as what takes place inside the classroom. It is in our childhood where we develop our relationship with nature, and school is where we understand the world around us. No matter your age, human connection with nature is a crucial part of our being; it can help reduce stress, increase calmness and improve mental ill health symptoms.
In an increasingly urbanised landscape, it's becoming more challenging for learning environments to bring the outside in. Countless studies have found that harnessing biophilia in educational settings profoundly impacts children and teachers alike. As the Design Director for AW Spaces for eight years, I have seen firsthand how by incorporating simple biophilic design principles, schools see a direct impact on their students' wellbeing, performance and engagement.
What is Biophilic Design?
So, what exactly is biophilic design? You've probably seen the term thrown around as an industry buzzword, but don't let that dissuade you from believing in its potential. Simply put, biophilic design harnesses the power of nature and blends it with human-made spaces, generating transformative results.
There has been significant scientific interest in the impact of nature on people as far back as the 1800s when it was theorised that when out in nature, our brains operate on a level of 'soft fascination'. Almost 100 years later, Kaplan & Kaplan (1989) formed the Attention Restoration Theory, which proposes there is a 'quietening down' in our prefrontal cortex while experiencing nature, and that this quietening positively improves our cognitive capacity.
In design, biophilia works to recreate this impact on the people who inhabit the space and reconnect them with the healing qualities of nature. There are three main principles which make up biophilic design:
Nature in the Space: This is where you can think about bringing natural elements into your learning environment. It includes methods such as maximising natural light coming into the space through window placements, ventilation and airflow, and the utilisation of plant life, flowers and greenery.
Natural Analogues: A term given to manmade items that emulate nature. It includes things like colour choice, artwork, furniture, textures, building materials and the employment of geometric and fractal shapes.
Natural Space Simulation: Where the configuration of a space parallels shapes found in nature. This can include tucked-away corners and vast, open spaces.
How to Incorporate Biophilic Design into Your School and Its Impact
The opportunity that biophilic design can bring is bountiful. The benefits are vast, From improving attention deficit disorder symptoms to increasing happiness to creating a conducive learning environment.
A pioneering study conducted by Terrapin Bright Green, Morgan State University and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies recently put biophilia to the test. By creating biophilic classrooms at a school and comparing them to non-biophilic classrooms, the study found that 35% of students in the biophilic classroom perceived their stress as high compared to 67% of students in the control classroom. And, after 7 months in the biophilic classroom, 7.2% more students tested at grade level than control classroom students.
Biophilic design does not have to mean a costly refurbishment of your school. However, there are relatively simple ways to establish biophilia in your classrooms. But, to truly maximise the potential, biophilic design must be holistic, combining all senses and elements to rejuvenate and transform your school and your people.
Biophilic Design Solutions:
Abundant Natural Light: Natural light is a cornerstone of biophilic design, as it impacts our circadian rhythms and bolsters our Vitamin D, improving focus and boosting happiness. Maximise using windows, skylights, and glass partitions to flood classrooms, corridors, and common areas with daylight. Studies show that increasing exposure to daylight can increase attendance by three and a half days a year and improve test scores between 5 and 14%.
Indoor Greenery: Sprinkle lush indoor plants throughout your spaces. Various plant species with different shapes, sizes, and textures will create a stimulating environment and a direct connection to nature for your students. Plants purify the air, increase oxygen levels, evoke a sense of tranquillity, reduce stress, and improve cognitive performance. In fact, plants in classrooms can also improve spelling, maths and science performance by as much as 14%.
Living Walls and Vertical Gardens: Transform plain walls into lush canvases bursting with life. Not only do living installations provide a treat for the senses, but they also enhance air quality, dampen noise, and provide insulation. By creating a vibrant tapestry of colour, living walls provide an inspiring backdrop that can boost creativity.
Natural Materials and Textures: By using wood, stone, or cork textures throughout the space, you can bring the tactile experience of nature inside. Introduce exposed brick walls or incorporate natural fibres like bamboo in furniture and finishes. Some raw materials, such as timber, also sequester carbon, so it can also improve the sustainability and ecology of the building.
Biophilic Art and Graphics: If bringing living plant life into your classroom is challenging, instal art that mimics nature. Create large-scale nature-themed murals, vibrant landscapes, or interactive installations encouraging exploration and discovery. Studies show that biophilic patterns can benefit children's wellbeing.
Thoughtful Outdoor Spaces: If your school has access to outdoor space, these can become extensions of learning environments. Gardens, sensory paths, or outdoor classrooms allow your students to immerse themselves in nature. These spaces disrupt traditional classroom dynamics and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and the exploration of the natural world.
If you're looking to improve your school environment to increase student productivity and performance, and increase admissions, get in touch with our team.