Want your kids to excel in school?

If so, one idea is to bring natural elements into the classroom.

In 1999, US building energy efficiency consultancy Heschong Mahone Group performed a study of 21,000 students across three counties in different states and compared the results of those who occupied classrooms which let in varying levels of daylight.

The outcome? Those whose classrooms let in more light scored up to 25 percent higher on standardised tests, attended three-and-a-half days more of school each year and achieved better grades overall of between five and fourteen percent.

Students in environments with natural elements may also be healthier.

In Austria, a study by Johanneum Research compared the health of students in two classrooms made of solid wood with those in two other classrooms made of standard material over one-year using heart rate monitors. The solid wood classrooms were found to reduce heart rates by an average of 8,600 heartbeats per day.

Such examples are among many which Oliver Heath, Managing Director of Oliver Heath Design and a leader in sustainable architecture in the United Kingdom, says demonstrate the value which biophilic design can add to projects.

In a recent webinar hosted by international modular flooring and carpet tiling/resilient flooring company Interface, Heath talked about the benefits of biophilic design, the different patterns involved in biophilic design and biophilic strategies which can be adopted for various budget levels.

Essentially, biophilic design seeks to improve the health, well-being and experiences of occupants within buildings by creating a connection to nature .

As will be discussed in a future article, features which can help to make this happen include views of nature from or within buildings; sounds or touch of nature (flowing water, textured materials etc.); the presence of water (e.g. water walls) or direct sunlight; and even use of natural colours, biomorphic shapes or natural patterns.

According to Heath, benefits can be demonstrated across multiple building typologies.

For example:

  • In offices, the Human Spaces Report which was published by Interface in 2017 and which surveyed 7,600 workers across sixteen countries found that workers who enjoy natural elements such as sunlight and greenery reported 15 percent higher levels of well-being, six percent higher levels of productivity and 15 percent higher levels of creativity.
  • A further Heschong Mahone Group study found that workers who have the best possible view outside a window as opposed to no view performed between ten and twenty five percent better in tests on mental function and memory recall.
  • In Australia, a study of more than 1,000 office workers released in 2018 by Forest and Wood Products Australia found that 82 percent of those who could see eight or more wooden surfaces from their desk were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their work. This compared with just 53 percent for those for whom no timber or wood was visible. That study also found that those with nature in their workplaces were more satisfied with their working life, more optimistic about the future, more confident, less stressed, had a greater ability to concentrate and were more productive (These results were adjusted to strip out discrepancies caused by many of those having nature in their workplace working for larger organisations and having more senior roles).
  • In hospitality an analysis of hotel rooms advertised on Hotels.com conducted by Interface in conjunction with Terrapin and Gensler found that those with a view to nature (especially water) attract an 18 percent price premium compared with rooms which did not have such a view. Moreover, that same survey found that 36 percent more hotel guests spent time in lobbies which had biophilic elements. Whereas review comments from guests in conventional hotels focused primarily on maintenance and services, those within biophilic hotels most commonly mentioned design and décor – in particular the use of nature and the design of space. (These results could partially be explained by hotels whose design involves greater use of natural elements catering for wealthier segments of the market).
  • In healthcare, a Chalmers University of Technology study published in 1984 examined recovery records of 46 patients after cholecystectomy in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981 – 23 of whom enjoyed a view of trees and grass whereas the other 23 saw only a brick wall. Those with the natural view had shorter post-operative stays, received fewer negative comments in nurses’ notes and took fewer potent analgesics.

Heath says the presence of nature delivers assurance to building occupants.

“If we walk into buildings and see that there are lots of lush plants and greenery, there is an immediate inference in our mind that if plants can live, survive and flourish here, then perhaps so can humans,” he said.

Heath says architects and designers can point to evidence such as that above to demonstrate value in this type of construction to clients.

With other design attributes, he says such evidence is less pervasive.

“Compared to so many other design styles – we have not had any research that has backed up why, say, modernism, post modernism or classism is the right thing – biophilic design is an evidence based approach,” Heath said.

“It uses research that has been backed up over the last 30 years across many different building typologies.

“The point of this is that it helps to create a business case. It helps to illustrate the true value that we as architects and designers can deliver to our clients. It says that by introducing a human centred approach that focuses on health and well-being and by bringing nature in, we can make people feel happier and healthier. The resultant impact of that is that they are going to be more productive, more creative and have more ideas.

“This is what your client wants to know that there are tangible benefits from the services that we deliver.”