Office interior with plants and wood
Biophilic design increases the pleasure humans receive from connection with nature. WWF’s headquarters, UK. Photo ©Wood Awards

Rejuvenating the environmentally impoverished

While enduring a fair bit of uncomfortable flying recently (oh those bum-numbing, knee-crushing Virgin Australia seats), I couldn’t help wondering if aircraft engineers had ever heard of ‘biophilic design’.

Roughly interpreted, the theory of biophilia is about the pleasure humans receive from being connected with nature and living things.

The architectural extension of the hypothesis is biophilic design, which is enjoying something of a resurgence in architecture.

Sensory-deprived settings

Italian architect and biophilic design proponent Enrico Cleva says the assumption that humans no longer need to affiliate with nature is revealed in the widespread practice of placing people in sensory-deprived and artificial settings – such as office buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping centres. (And commercial aircraft!)

“Much of today’s built environment is designed lacking adequate natural light, natural ventilation, natural materials, vegetation, views, environmental shapes and forms,” he told me recently.

“As structures, they remind us of the old-style zoo, now ironically banned as ‘inhumane’.” (That’s the word for cabin class air travel: inhumane.)

Inside passenger aircraft
A more ‘natural’ in-flight atmosphere, please. Photo: ©Shutterstock

Environmentally impoverished

Cleva believes these ‘environmentally impoverished’ habitats foster fatigue, symptoms of disease and impaired performance. “Yet, the simple introduction of natural lighting, outside views and vegetation can result in enhanced health and productivity.”

He cites the WELL building standard – the first of its kind to focus solely on the health and wellbeing of building occupants – as the way forward. “It is a proven solution to so-called ‘sick building’ syndrome. You know those places: where you don’t see the sun and the light is always the same …”

Personality changes

People suffering from sick building syndrome have symptoms including: headache, dizziness, nausea, itchy eyes, sneezing, throat irritation, dry skin, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, sensitivity to odours, hoarseness of voice, allergies, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks and personality changes.

(Sounds very like the after-effects of travelling with a commercial airline.)

Cleva says when you are in a WELL building, it must have a positive impact on the occupants. “You have to feel better, and you don’t need to go outside to feel nature.”

Tree ferns in forest
Outside views can enhance health and productivity. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Long-suffering travellers

Hopefully, when the Boeing and Airbus designers read this blog, they will give serious thought to a more biophilic atmosphere for us long-suffering, long-haul passengers …

Perhaps some overhead lockers converted for hydroponics and bonsai? Images of trees and natural streams projected on the inner fuselage walls? Or wood-grain finished lockers instead of ‘grey-water grey’ plastic?

Anything to take our minds off the increasingly uncomfortable seating and inhumane overcrowding back there in cattle class would be gratefully received.

(Footnote: Enrico Cleva’s comments (above) were part of a blog I wrote in late 2017 for the Australian architectural resource website, WoodSolutions.)

Tony Neilson, Natural Images 2018©

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