Have you ever wondered why people always feel the need to “escape” from it all and go on a trip into the wilderness? Of course, there are many different reasons why people take a vacation or do some traveling. Most of the time it is stress from work that finally pushes them out of the office and into the forest. But, besides the obvious job, family, and personal drivers, is there something more innate that makes us want to go back into nature? According to Harvard’s conservationist E.O. Wilson, there is.
Biophilia, a term popularized by Wilson, means that
“humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life.”
This idea shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Up until very recently on our historical timeline, humans have lived outdoors with nature and wildlife. Today, most of the western population sits inside office buildings 9 hours a day, 5 days out of the week. After leaving work, most of us travel inside a car to our homes, where we sit some more. No wonder people always feel like they need a “vacation.” Maybe this need to constantly get away comes from an inner desire to flee the artificial lives we have. Could living near, or inside nature cure certain ailments that affect the modern working man?
According to the Biophilic Cities website, “evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of nature is mounting and impressive (research shows its ability to reduce stress, to aid recovery from illness, to enhance cognitive skills and academic performance, to aid in moderating the effects of ADHD, autism and other child illnesses).” So, it appears that co-existing with nature—flora, animals, and rich ecosystems—is beneficial to our mental and physical well-being. But, isn’t it inefficient to drive out of town every time you want to lay under some trees? What if, instead of leaving your home city to be in touch with nature, you brought the nature to your city?
A biophilic city has abundant nature in close proximity to the people dwelling there. They have powerful, biodiverse ecosystems that are actively protected by the community. These cities
“invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites in closer connection and understanding of nature.”
Alright, this sounds great and all, but where exactly is this physical infrastructure that the site mentions? Slowly but surely, trees and plants are being incorporated into the very design of buildings. An architecture firm in Sri Lanka plans to build the worlds tallest vertical garden next year—which will also serve as a 46-floor high-rise apartment building. Besides the plant-covered tower being able to capture CO2 from the atmosphere, it will also run on solar-power and have a completely self-sustaining watering system. So, if being around nature 24/7 actually does prove beneficial to your health, and you live in an almost completely sustainable building, you can feel good about your health and the environment’s at the same time. That sounds like a pretty big eco game-changer to me—but it only gets better from here. What does the future of sustainable building design hold for us?
Biomimetics, according to Wikipedia, “is the study of the structure and function of biological systems as models for the design and engineering of materials and machines.” Put simply, this means scientists can look at the design of a bug’s wings and apply that function to the aerodynamics of a jet. So, what does this have to do with buildings? Janine Benyus and Tim Brown, the chief executive at a design and innovation consulting firm, discuss biomimicry in a Ted discussion. Taken from one of Janine’s responses, she says “you don’t just learn that the beetle can comb water out of fog, you actually have a generative design program, an algorithm, that allows you to skin your train or your car with that particular shape, so you can wrap a building so that it too can comb water out of fog. The knowledge actually turns into a product that comes out of biological intelligence.” It appears that scientists are already brainstorming ideas to make these biophilic buildings even more useful—-in the future they may even extract water from the atmosphere.