BE+ is happy to start blogging about some of our ongoing community roundtables with the help of our Fall interns. Thank you to Linh Mai for this blog entry on the Health & Wellness Community’s recent roundtable on Biophilia.

The November Roundtable dove into the different strategies, benefits, and challenges of biophilic design elaborated through the speakers’ rich portfolio of examples. Janice Goodman, the owner of Cityscapes, initiated the conversation by emphasizing that now is an exciting time for biophilic design with more interest in healthy and safe indoor environments than ever. According to Jan, scientific research, ROI, and data conducted through different channels (Green Plants for Green Building and Terrapin Bright Green) are key tools to convince the owners and developers to adopt biophilic design elements. Some measurable statistics of biophilic design benefits include: “15% Increase in productivity when biophilic design is present. 12% decrease in absenteeism…lowering stress hormones by 15%.” The MassMutual Headquarters was a collaboration between Cityscape and Elkus Manfredi spearheaded as a biophilic success in Boston’s Seaport District, raising the demand from clients and influencing upcoming projects. Thomas Kinslow, Senior Architect at Elkus Manfredi, discussed the concept of forests inside the city and the abstract illustration of the concept through bringing a variety of plants (moss, trees) inside the lobby, installing dappled lighting mimicking daylighting patterns, and reclaiming recycled timber as ceiling stretches. 

Erik Hegre, the Director of Behnisch Architekten, talked about the contrast between the openness of Flatiron Building’s operable windows and the closeness of current buildings. He believed that bringing nature into the building should start with natural elements (light, air, water, etc.) and the interaction between these elements and the architecture. How can buildings embody the ethos of your research culture? Lumen Building Institute for Forestry Research and Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex  provide their own answers to that question through natural daylight, indoor gardens, complex screen facades, and vegetated roofs.

The discussion continued with raised questions on the challenges of keeping plants alive in buildings and the resulting added cost. Thomas understood Elkus Manfredi’s mission as creating a terrarium for the tree, providing anything that the trees need to thrive. According to Janice, those conditions include the correct planting process, lighting, soil and planter depth, and ongoing maintenance. Further challenges lie in convincing, communicating, and making sure the owners are on board with the additional costs and monthly maintenance fees from early in the design process. 

Aside from plants, the speakers shared additional biophilic design strategies used by their firms. In terms of material, Erik pointed out that natural and healthier materials often have premium costs. His firm strategically reserved timber for seatings and staircases where users can have an immersive experience. Another method is making indispensable structural building components multifunctional. For instance, the Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex’s overhanging roof provides both shading and indirect light for the upper floor, acts as a green roof, and helps with water runoff. 

Another discussion topic is how biophilia improves indoor air quality. Although plants remove VOC, their impacts are miniscule compared to the overall mass of the building and the carbon produced through transportation and installation. 

The final message of this discussion is a call to rethink how we are designing and constructing buildings, so that biophilia and wellness are integral to the building design and not an addition.

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