Design and Health World Health Design

Book Review: Biophilic Design

Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life
Kellert S R, Heerwagen J H, Mador M L  
Wiley Blackwell, 2008     
Price: £39.99 / €50

This well conceived and edited book is published at a time that requires a fundamental generational rethink about the impact of buildings, both in terms of their environmental performance and their impact on human health and wellbeing.

Paradigms are shifting, with a greater focus on the value of health and environmental capital as opposed to financial wealth, calling into question current design and investment decisions, at both a micro and macro level.

Long-term or short-term investment: you decide, or the markets will decide for you. Without the easy intrinsic ‘off-plan’ growth of the last decade, clients and developers will be looking for a new language of value and performance, and different forms of cost accounting that properly appraise the morphological and bio-diverse benefi ts of buildings that plan to reduce the running costs, maintenance and rehabilitation of our existing buildings.

Biophilic design is not a mainstream phrase associated with the response and intuitive affiliation of human systems with nature. And some architects of certain generations (including this reviewer) raised on Erskine, Aalto, Asmussen, Cullinan, Christopher Alexander and other iconic European theorists and urban practitioners, all referenced here, might find themselves scratching their geodesic domes.

They would recognise the case being made for fundamental design qualities where nature is included in the built environment, not the separateness of evidence and theory meshed together by technology – raising their eyes out of a ‘room with a view’ to rest on where the argument had been buried in the garden.

This is the essence of the book. It is making the case for consideration, with extensive case studies, research papers with illustrations and an exposition that takes the subject way beyond abstract consideration. It is saying whatever environment you are planning, think of these principles and sensibilities and if you need justifi cation for a more responsive design here it is.

So leave this book on your client’s and your funder’s desk, or lift key sections out of the chapters to green your business case. None of these chapter authors will mind. And if you have been feeling left out and old-fashioned in the past few years with the triumphant pall of procurement over planning, dust down your old post-occupancy evaluations that asked the cancer patient what was important – the immediate outside space, the bird at the table, the door for children to play outside when visiting. When we are ill, we need the immediacy of a supporting safe environment.

Tensions with technology – yes, let the argument commence, if they can hear you in Third Life behind the headphones. Get this publication a Facebook site now and plan the coolest party in town. Chapters address our neurological response to the stressors and inhibitors that are placed on our environments.

It begins to inform how we become part of a building’s life cycle experience, reconnecting us to a new living architecture that can respond to intense change but without degrading core infrastructural elements. It is about how we might manage the end of things that previously made our cities work and are familiar to our parents and to us.

The application of the lower technologies into some of the most sophisticated buildings of our time are illustrated: the Swiss Re Tower, SkyCeilings in surgology, green roofs over familiar city banks, new places refl ecting aspects of scale, protective and variable. And there are places and spaces that we might look to beyond this now.

We should explore how the Finnish utilise mobile phone technologies for better access to healthcare professionals from the home. Every township has a mobile phone mast, so let us make the case for health networks free at the point of access.

Mental health therapies harnessed in a series of gardens in Stockholm, hurricane resilience planning and urban agriculture in Havana. As these levels of intervention illustrate, there is much good new practice out there by inspirational individuals. And so much design complacency to attack, as this fi ne publication encourages.

Phil Astley is a senior lecturer at the Medical Architecture Research Unit (MARU), London South Bank University and course director of MSc Planning Buildings for Health

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