Biophillia – Using light to connect with nature

Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place where you feel a deep sense of calm and relaxation.

Did you imagine somewhere in nature? Perhaps a deserted beach or lush forest? You’re not alone.

Even though we spend 90 per cent of our time – if not more – ensconced in manmade environments, under artificial lighting, the majority of us feel most at peace when surrounded by nature. It’s enmeshed in our DNA. Being in natural spaces often brings a harmonious feeling of deep connection with life around us.

This is biophilia, or literally, a love of life or living things.

As we urbanise, as a society we spend more of our time in box-like structures that shut out access to the natural systems of the world. This forces us to rely on machines and technology to regulate our living environments. As time goes on our connection to nature becomes less relevant and our biophilic responses may atrophy.

However, man-made designs don’t have to block out nature.

The objective of biophilic design is to enhance our connection to the natural environment, which in turn brings health, environmental, and economic benefits for both building owners and occupants.

Naturally, we are most interested in the intersection between lighting and biophilia: How can we enhance our connection with nature while still maintaining functional living and working space?

A leading proponent of biophilic design, writer and researcher Stephen Kellert– The Practice of Biophilic Design (find this here; The Practice of Biophillic Design.pdf) – defined the attributes of biophilic design in three dimensions:

● Direct experience of nature through tangible contact
● Indirect experience of nature through representations
● Experience of a particular space and place

Using Kellert’s framework, we can break down the effects that light and lighting can have in contributing to biophilic spaces. Namely:

Direct experience of nature
● Increasing access to daylight
● Revealing the passing of time through lighting expression
● Projection of natural patterns and shadows

Indirect experience of nature
● Simulate natural light through the application of dynamic lighting systems
● Variation in lighting intensity to match natural conditions the outdoors
● Variation of lighting direction and surface reflection

Experience of place
● Using light to orient and wayfind
● Revealing space to encourage feelings of safety
● Allowing cultural and regional forms to shape design

Based on these dimensions of design – we can use lighting to restore and maintain our connection to the natural world. From our practice, we understand these guidelines can reduce stress, enhance clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing.

For access to lighting guidelines and design tips that we have compiled based around the principles of biophilia, please click here.

Writing and research on biophilic design started in the 1970s and is developing in significance and popularity – for more in-depth reading on biophilia, please see our list of references here.

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