As we move towards a future of driverless cars, shrinking parking lots, and smart, connected buildings, there’s another quiet trend taking root: biophilic city planning and building design.
Biophilic design is bringing nature back into urban areas, balancing all that concrete and steel with more living plants, water, sunlight, and natural materials. It’s a way planners and architects are making public and private spaces a little bit wilder, greener, and healthier for the people who use them. Today, the trend is getting a high-profile boost from major tech companies who’ve incorporated it into their office designs, from Microsoft’s treehouses to Apple’s orchards.
If you’ve noticed green roofs, waterfall features, living plant walls and green courtyards springing up in your area, those are all examples of biophilic design in action! Some stunning examples of biophilic design taking root across cities, offices, and residential buildings around the world include:
- World’s tallest vertical garden in Sydney. Sydney’s One Central Park residential towers boast a gorgeous green facade that rises more than 500 feet into the sky and is punctuated by lush terraced gardens. Its two urban towers incorporate 250 species of plants and flowers native to Australia and create a lush, nature-inspired landscape for its many occupants.
- Amazon’s cloud forest “Spheres” in Seattle. Here’s a breathtaking example of how beautiful biophilic office design can be. Just this year, Amazon opened its $4-billion Spheres workspace, a set of futuristic glass orbs that house over 40,000 plants and feel “more like a tropical rainforest in the clouds than an office,” says the company.
- A rainforest-like hospital in Singapore. The Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore is a celebration of biophilic building design, bringing the lush flora and fauna of the rainforest to a hospital setting. Its verdant courtyards, roofs, terraced gardens, and sky bridges are home to several species of butterflies, birds, fish, and fragrant plants.
- Etsy’s Living Building Challenge-inspired Brooklyn headquarters. With its new headquarters in Brooklyn, Etsy took up the challenge of meeting the International Living Future Institute’s Live Building Challenge, which not only embraces green principles like water and energy efficiency, but encourages biophilic design elements that promote physical and psychological health. Etsy’s verdant rooftop terraces, nontoxic and local building materials, zero-waste initiatives, and tranquil work and wellness areas are all ways they’re rising to the challenge.
- “Pocket parks” integrated into tight city spaces. Midtown Manhattan’s Paley Park is a testament to how powerful nature can be, even in tiny doses. Despite its tight quarters, the little park has carved out an oasis of calm in a busy city. Parks like these don't have to be a destination in themselves to be appealing—even simple elements like a small canopy of green or a waterfall feature are all it takes to make even the busiest city seem more serene.
All this green popping up in urban spaces should be good news for people and businesses alike. There’s research to suggest that green office design can boost productivity as well as well-being, and that natural elements and sunlight boost job satisfaction while also decreasing depression and anxiety. One study even suggests that people in nature-inspired environments are 6% more productive and 15% more creative.
What’s perhaps more interesting is just how much people seem to crave and appreciate these environments. The study above discovered that design is so important to people that 33% of the 7,600 office workers surveyed said they’d use it to decide whether or not to work somewhere!
That’s significant, considering that 47% of people participating in the study said they had no natural light at work, and 58% had no plant life. Clearly, there is an opportunity here for businesses to embrace biophilic design principles—and luckily, some very high-profile companies are already setting an example for others to follow. This is definitely a trend to watch in the coming years!