Designer Oliver Heath is an expert in sustainable architecture and interiors. He explains the thinking behind biophilic design and how to connect with nature in your home. 

  Oliver heath in houseplant hotel, joy of plants

Image: Productivity suite at Leman Locke Hotel, designed by Oliver for Thejoyofplants.co.uk. Photo by Simone Morciano

'Biophilic design' are the words on everyone's lips in the world of design, so we took a few moments to catch up with expert Oliver Heath, who has previously spoken at Grand Designs Live on the subject and is currently working with bathroom brand Geberit to promote the concept for our homes, to try to better understand the true concept behind the buzz. 

What is biophilic design? 

'Biophilia means a love of nature – a term and concept that was devised in the 1980s by the biologist Edward O. Wilson. It explained humans’ innate attraction and desire to be in and around nature and natural processes, and is a way to manage the stress, anxiety and exhaustion of modern life. It's an evolutionary design ethos based on the idea that, for thousands of years, humans evolved from very close connection to healthy forms of nature.

As society became more urbanised following the industrial revolution, the built environment filled with dense, geometric forms and living spaces that were much closer together. Our connection to nature was reduced in the urban landscape, while the population density increased.

Biophilic design can be used to increase a better physical and mental state and reduce the stress of urban living.'

Norway nature cabin with views to nature - grand designs

 Image: This countryside villa, designed by Oliver for TV2's ‘Tid for Hjem’ (Time for Home), maintains a connection with the surrounding area through large picture windows. 

Biophilic design is a key phrase in sustainable architecture and interiors, why is that?

'There are things we can do in our homes to make them more sustainable and practical, to reduce our use of limited resources and save money. Having talked about sustainability for more than 20 years, and in recent years more specifically about biophilic design, I wanted to shift the emphasis to a more human-centred conversation. 

By insulating your home, it will be warmer and less draughty. Damp is less of a risk if a house is well ventilated and there will be less mould, which can affect breathing difficulties, asthma and allergies. Essentially, biophilic design is something that people are passionate about because everyone wants to be happier and healthier. 

There have been a number of studies showing that having a closer connection to nature in one's life leads to greater desire for the conservation of the wider natural environment. If you look after a plant, maybe you will progress to several plants or have a greater connection with your garden or appreciate the benefits of the trees in your local park. 

Being in nature makes you want to protect it - whether that is your plants, garden, the local park, countryside or maybe the global environment. I think it is also on people’s minds because many of the younger generation have an interest and passion for protection of the environment, but at the same time are not able to make big changes to their living spaces because they tend to live in rented homes. 

Those in rented accommodation may not be permitted to paint the walls or put pictures up – how do they turn the shell they have into a home? Plants are a fantastic way of doing that because they add natural colour and texture, making a blank space into an exciting space through shape and form.'

oliver heath brighton home outside with wood panelling - grand designs

Image: Oliver's own home in Brighton is clad in timber panelling, which he notes is a material that has been shown to lower heart rate in scientific studies. 

'There have been a number of studies that have shown that having a closer connection to nature in one's life leads to greater empathy and desire for the conservation of our wider natural environment. If you look after a plant, maybe it becomes a few plants; or you might have a greater connection with your garden or appreciate the benefits of the trees in your local park. 

Being in nature makes you want to protect it - whether it's your plants, your garden, you park, your country or maybe the wider global environment. I think it's also coming up on the agenda now because so many of the younger generation have a greater interest and passion for protection of the wider environment, but at the same time are not able to influence their own immediate environment because there's more young people renting homes than buying them. 

They can't paint, they can’t put pictures up – how do they turn the shell they have into a home? Plants are a fantastic way of doing that because they add immediate colour and texture. They create a greater sense of dynamism through movement. They connect you to the sense of place because you literally invest in yourself in the time in the kind of attention you deliver to them. They create visual texture and pattern that makes a blank space into an exciting space through some shape and form.'

oliver heath remind studio project london - grand designs

Image: Oliver created this studio design for Re:Mind in London, using principles of biophilic design and WELL buiding standards. 

What steps can we take to bring biophilic design into our homes? 

'Having some form of outside space is an opportunity to connect with nature. No matter how big or small, make it is easy and accessible to use in as many different weather conditions as possible. Position furniture near windows. The natural light and the views outside will help to relax the eyes.

It might be about introducing good ventilation systems and ensuring a continuous flow of fresh air – particularly in the kitchen and bathroom.

Geberit bathroom with natural elements incorporated - grand designs

 Image: Oliver has worked with Geberit this year to encourage applying biophilic design principles to the bathroom. 

It could be about the colours that you use. Colours such as blue are a calming reminder of water, green is invigorating and fresh like spring, yellow is warming and welcoming like sunshine and orange and red are more stimulating.

Studies have shown that timber walls can reduce the heart rate, showing that using natural materials influences the way we feel.'

 

For more expert ideas, read Grand Designs magazine digitally for free now by registering your details

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How have you created a connection with nature in your own home? Share your thoughts with us by tweeting us @granddesigns or post a comment on our Facebook page.

 

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