Biophilia is not a trend. It is a philosophy, one that feeds the fundamental understanding that man exists not with nature, but because of it. So, it’s imperative that a relationship of respect is forged, and an explicit acknowledgement of its relevance be rationalised in the way we conduct our everyday lives, a big part of which is the spaces we inhabit. With increasing environmental consciousness and a heightened inter-dependency awareness, biophilia is rapidly being incorporated into our lifestyles through design, decor and aesthetics.
What it implies
The word literally means ‘an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world’, according to biologist EO Wilson. In short, it’s all about getting the outdoors, indoors. Creating access to natural light, verdant greens, installing wood accessories, transitioning to organic construction materials, accessorising with nature-resembling motifs—all have proven long-term benefits such as stress reduction, better cognitive function and blood pressure management. Biophilic design is actually a multi-sensory function. The ideology is not simply limited to visual stimulus but also auditory and olfactory senses, that is empirically tied to the strong human-nature interconnectedness.
You may recall how soothing the sound of recorded waves, birds or wind feels at a tropical hotel, a spa, or a wellness retreat. The sound translates as strong emotions hard-wired into the brain’s limbic system that gets triggered on receiving stimuli such as a pleasant sound, instilling instant calmness. This is also why apps selling ambient sounds of nature have become so popular. “Using background sounds of drizzle, storm, bonfire, rustling of leaves, jungle creeks, murmuring of insects, and lakeside whispers in our architectural spaces can expedite restorative responses for our organs,” says Mumbai-based design psychologist Mandeep Mahajan, adding, “It has been a long pursuit for scientists to highlight the advantages of biophilic aspects for urban consumers who are detached from its understanding. With the help of design practitioners, this research has got a practical design application now.”
Biophilic design is an excellent noise diffuser, an element that is yet underutilised. A fruitful way of achieving this is by way of setting up moss walls or placing certain kinds of greens in your spaces that absorb sound (read white noise). When sound waves strike a flat surface, they boomerang in a straight line. However, when the same happens on a craggy surface such as a moss wall, the density of the soundwaves gets dismantles, diffusing it unevenly, thus reducing its impact.
This constitutes the first sphere of engagement wherein what we see gets calibrated as what we feel. At the heart of biophilic design are architectural masterpieces such as Maggie’s Centre Lanarkshire, Scotland, wherein its architect has used large windows, and clean, linear structuring to allow natural light and fresh greens to accessorise the building. Another great example is the Selgas Cano
office Space in Madrid that has been designed to allow nature to come right through the transparent design execution. You literally feel as though you’re sitting in a forest.
Wood installation into walls, furniture or decorative motifs is a quick way of introducing biophilic aesthetics into your space. The other great accessory is wall art or wallpapers. Flowers, too, are the easiest biophilic embellishment. Floral brands like Champs Fleur are recognising the need to bring down the carbon footprint caused by thousands of tonnes of floral waste every year, by introducing long-lasting organic roses that undergo a four-step preservation process for longevity.
Home-grown brands such as Ishatvam, too, have jumped on to the biophilic bandwagon with their coconut shell coasters with mother of pearl inlay, or the seashell-inspired handmade glass decoratives by Momentz. Sarita Handa has shown her craftiness by way of introducing a collection of ornate 150-year-old chariot panels from Kerala made of teakwood. The botanica table runner that The Decor Kart brings exemplifies biophilic patterning. “Trends always come full circle. Biophilia was a way of life earlier. Then we gave in to the temptation of urbanisation. Now we are back to the basics, with biophilia reminding us of our reconnect,” says Adita Bhaskar, founder and creative director, Ishatvam.
Today, immersive biophilic design practice has emerged victorious as opposed to establishing standalone elements. According to Sarita Handa, founder and creative director of her eponymous brand, there are two aspects to biophilia in interior décor and design: the inclusion of fresh and/or imitation plants as decorative elements; and biophilic shapes, colours, and silhouettes serving as creative sources of inspiration. “Both are extremely popular for a very simple reason. Human beings are part of the world’s ecosystem. It is but natural for us to feel an instinctive, familiar sense of belonging when we interact with biophilia. No matter how sophisticated, new-age or beloved the modern ‘concrete jungle’ is, it is sometimes no match, for the pre-ordained intricacy and symmetry of nature,” she says.
Stretching itself into the gamut of non-visual and non-auditory stimuli is where the third dimension of biophilia drifts in, establishing physiological well being with a single stream of nature’s whiff. Whether through diffusers or perfumes, the scent is an important, much-underrated aspect of design. With an immediate triggering of feelings in the olfactory cortex of the brain, scents can make or break the value of commercial or personal space. “By penetrating inside the epidermis via diffusers, they affect our nervous system,” says Delhi-based Pooja Nagdev, an aromatherapist. The list of useful fragrances for design purposes is exhaustive, yet she gives the three most versatile ones. “They are vetiver oil, eucalyptus, and lavender oil,” she says.