Architecture and wellness, views and connection to nature
With all of the research we’ve explored in developing our point of view on architecture and wellness, we believe that views and connection to nature is one of the most important considerations in terms of overall well-being and stress reduction. If you haven’t already, check out our original post on the topic architecture and wellness for a summary of all 10 key factors influencing wellness in a building or home.
“There is a specific part of the brain (the parahippocampal cortex) that recognises beautiful views of nature, and this part of the brain is rich in endorphins” – Healing spaces – the science of place and well-being: Esther Sternberg at TEDxTuscon 2013
I’ve always enjoyed living in a home with a view of the sea, turns out it’s not just something I think is nice, but something I’m biochemically driven to want and rewarded with endorphins when I’m looking at the view of water.
Views of trees improve us as humans
Robert Taylor Homes study compared people living in buildings with views of trees and people without trees nearby. What he found was that nearby trees were a strong predictor for:
- Better relationships with neighbours
- Less aggression
- Less violent behaviour
It’s amazing to consider how dramatically humans are impacted by trees. What is it about them that makes us nicer, happier people? The answer lies in our connection to nature is a profoundly deep relationship we’ve developed over thousands of years.
Biophilic Design and our deep connection to nature
I like this simple definition:
Biophilic design seeks to connect our inherent need to affiliate with nature in the modern built environment. Metropolis Mag
This design concept is based on the fact that for thousands of years our prehistoric ancestors roamed this rugged landscape living nomadic lifestyles, developing a deep connection to nature. Slowly we evolved from this nomadic lifestyle to living in huts, houses, villages, apartment buildings and cities.
“In roughly 10,000 short years, the environment in which we live changed from entirely natural, to almost exclusively artificial. Despite all this environmental change, one thing remains the same – the bond we forged with nature and the natural world.” Ambius
Some of the issues we face due to our biological bodies not evolving as fast as our built environments include:
- Sick building syndrome
- Disruptions to circadian rhythm
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of depression
Our biochemical bodies
This idea of our biochemical bodies not having adapted to this new way of living is also a theme across other wellness areas. For example Nutritional Biochemist Dr Libby Weaver discusses our ‘cavewoman biochemistry’ and how the fast pace of our current lives generates a level of constant stress that our bodies cannot deal with.
“Cortisol is our chronic stress hormone. In other words, we tend to make too much of it when we are stressed for a long time. Historically, the only long-term stresses humans had were floods, famines and wars; all scenarios where food may have been scarce.” Dr Libby – stuff.co.nz
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Excessive cortisol tells our bodies that we are in a state of famine and therefore your metabolism slows down and increases fat stores for survival. So even though in our modern age we have an abundance of food, our ancient biochemical bodies haven’t adapted for this new way of life resulting our obesity issues. Dr Libby also points to a connection to nature as the antidote to excessive stress hormone production:
“Nature has a wonderfully calming effect on the nervous system. In fact there are studies that show that humans feel calmer when they are immersed in nature.” Dr Libby – stuff.co.nz
Dangers of being an indoor species
In today’s society we spend 90% of our time indoors, and we’ve effectively evolved into an indoor species. So given we spend so much time indoors, it really is important to consider in your home design how you maximise the views to the outdoors and nature. If that is not always possible, consider how you can bring nature indoors. Indoor plants is one way to achieve this – benefits of plants in the workplace has been well researched and results include:
- Psychological and physiological stress reduction
- More positively toned moods
- Increased ability to refocus attention
- Mental restoration and reduced mental fatigue
- Improved performance on cognitive tasks
- Reduced pain perceptions in health care settings
Forest Bathing – active connection to nature
I laughed out loud when I read an article on “Forest Bathing” and the idea that you had to do a programme to walk in the forest. Then I got a bit sad that our modern society is really making us so unwell that programmes like these need to be implemented to combat the fact we spend so much of our lives disconnected from nature. Forest Bathing was an idea started in Japan to address the health issues of an indoor lifestyle and is the process of taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the natural environment to encourage physical and psychological health (The Washington Post). I also thought of the interesting connection with other wellness ‘trends’ and if you told our ancestors we’d be paying money to go into a place called a ‘gym’ to run on a machine for your health they would think we’re crazy. So it’s not so crazy we now need health interventions to draw us out of our buildings and into nature for the sake of our well-being.
How do we apply this idea to architecture and bespoke home design?
Views and connection to nature is always a number one consideration in all of Stefan’s designs. His design ethos is to create a sense of connection with the outdoors on every room promoting health, light and positive visual distraction.
For example long dreary corridors without windows or connection to nature is one of the spaces that Stefan believes should be avoided. With a bit of care and clever planning every space can enhance the sense of wellbeing improving the sensorial experience of inhabiting a space.
In Stefan’s words “ the role of architecture is to improve and foster the human condition using design as a catalyst for wellness.”
References and further reading