Opinion Piece

Building For the Future

Opinion piece by Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)

Biodiversity across the UK is under threat. According to the latest State of Nature Report (2023), almost one in six species are threatened by extinction in the United Kingdom. The built environment is at the forefront of this issue, and measures must be taken to ensure we as an industry protect habitats.

The use of biophilic design is one way that our industry can help protect the biodiversity of our planet, and it also has the benefit of improving the environment for all users of the building.

Biophilic design

The concept of biophilic design has been around since the 1970’s, and there is a significant amount of evidence for its positive effects on wellbeing in the living and working environment.

Biophilia is a human personality trait. The word biophilia originates from the Greek philia, meaning love of, therefore, biophilia literally means a love of life or living things.

The term was popularised in the 1970s by psychologist Enrich Fromm, and further explored by E.O Wilson in his 1984 publication Biophilia. Both Wilson and Fromm believe biophilia has a biological basis which is fundamental to developing relationships between humans and the Earth’s biosphere.

From a design perspective, biophilic design within the built environment can be split into four elements:

  • environmental features –people are naturally drawn to features of the natural environment such as plants, sunlight, natural materials, and water. Buildings that are designed to work in co-operation with nature, such as internal green walls, help to reduce noise levels and create a relaxing environment
  • natural light and space – the use of light and space is a vital element of biophilic design, and there are many ways they can be incorporated into spaces. Both natural and filtered daylight through large windows and skylights enhance the visual connection with indoor and outdoor environments, helping to create a brighter and more welcoming atmosphere, as well as enhancing mood and overall wellbeing.
  • natural materials – utilising materials derived from nature, such as wood, stone and natural fibres, is a core element of biophilic design. These materials benefit spaces, by not only adding warmth and many cognitive benefits, such as creating a calming environment and reducing stress, but also resonating with our inherent affinity for the natural environment; and
  • biomorphic forms and patterns – the use of organic shapes, patterns and textures inspired by nature. For example, designs influenced by leaves and intricate patterns in natural ecosystems help to conjure up a relationship to the environment.

By integrating these elements, biophilic design creates environments that not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of spaces, but also contribute to human wellbeing by encouraging a connection with the natural world.

CABE’s efforts towards biodiversity through biophilic design

In 2019, CABE began a project to refurbish Lutyens House, CABE’s headquarters in Northampton. The building was completely refurbished in 2021 including installing new windows, sun pipes and lighting that automatically responds to the light levels outside. This use of biophilic design has made the building lighter and airier establishing a link to the natural world for the staff working within the building.

As part of the redevelopment landscape designer Catriona Rowbotham was tasked with designing a garden to boost the biodiversity of the site and enhance the wellbeing of staff working at Lutyens House. The landscaping strategy that was created will develop various areas of the half acre site and contribute to improving both the aesthetics of the building and the biodiversity of the surrounding area.

In late Summer 2023 phase one of the landscape project began with the development of a new formal garden breakout space to the rear of the property. Seating areas will be broken up to provide small, intimate eating and working areas with a variety of café tables, benches and a lounging area. These will be arranged around a raised pond, with a small waterspout giving gentle background noise to distract from traffic sounds from the surrounding roads. Planters surrounding the pond will contain woodland planting to create a feeling of being closer to nature and to give texture to the garden.

At the start of the project the site’s pollution levels were measured, and it was discovered that the air pollution level was higher than the London Underground. To help to reduce these levels yew hedging has been selected. Yew is especially good at absorbing pollution and will help to clean the air surrounding the building.

The creation of the new garden breakout space will create an attractive external space for staff and visitors The green space and raised pond will create a peaceful environment for staff to enjoy, reducing stress levels and improving staff wellbeing.

It is envisaged that the garden will be utilised as an outdoor working space. Working outside is proven to have many health benefits, including helping staff to be less stressed and more energetic, improving memory function and overall happiness within the workplace.

The carefully chosen flora for the site will not only increase the sites biodiversity attracting pollinators and invertebrates but will also deepen the staff’s connection with the changing seasons. As colleagues gather in seating areas around a raised pond, the integration of greenery will transform the space into more than a garden – it will become a living testament to the co-operation between thoughtful design and the natural world, enhancing both the working environment and the broader ecosystem.

Future phases for Lutyens House include woodland-style planting along the main road adjoining the site, and mixed species turf at the car park entrance, adopting year-round green interest with lower maintenance needs than traditional grass.

As well as mixed species turf, a transition area will be created, connecting the main wooded area and sunny spaces at Lutyens House. The area will boast tall grasses and autumn perennials. Birch trees and shrubs will be planted at the front of the property, which will make a formal entrance statement, complemented by naturalistic palettes.

Through embracing biophilic design, Lutyens House’s renovation exemplifies the co-operation between construction and nature.

As an industry, the benefits of biophilic design are clear for all to see. Building structures that are aesthetically pleasing and incorporate biophilic design ideals create buildings that are more inspiring for the users and creates an ecosystem that enables a more sustainable future.

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