Design is the Solution

Keeping in touch with nature is in essence of our being. However, it can be hard or even impossible to achieve while living in concrete building apartments and urban areas that most of us call home. Biophilic design is the designing for people as a biological organism, respecting the mind-body systems as indicators of health and well-being in the context of what is locally appropriate and responsive. Good biophilic design draws from influential perspectives- health conditions, socio-cultural norms and expectations, past experiences, frequency and duration of the user experience, the many speeds at which it may be encountered and user perception and processing of the experience- to create spaces that are inspirational, restorative, and healthy, as well as integrative with the functionality of the place and the urban ecosystem to which it is applied. Above all, a biophilic design must nurture a love of place.

Being my wicked problem of choice, biophilic design has peaked my interest for numerous reasons. Biophilic design can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important. U.S. businesses squander billions of dollars each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illnesses and given how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response- biophilic design- is essential for providing people opportunities to live and work in healthy places and spaces. Biophilia is humankind’s innate biological connection to nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why strolling through a park has healing effects.

A close look at architectural history shows a consistency of natural themes in historic structures and suggests that biophilic design is not a new phenomenon; rather, it is the codification of history, human intuition and neural sciences showing that connections with nature are vital to maintaining a healthful and vibrant existence as an urban species.

“In every walk with nature, one receives more than one seeks” – John Muir. I absolutely love this quote because I think every one of us can relate to it. And I’m not talking about a walk around Boomer lake on a paved walkway surrounded by the urban world. Personally, there is no feeling like hiking through the mountains in Arkansas. My senses heighten and I get a high from being surrounded by so much nature. It is exhilarating.

And speaking off all this nature, most of all our waste doesn’t end up going back to nature but goes to a landfill. The same molecules in a paper bag could biodegrade naturally but if it ends up in a landfill, it will degrade differently and contribute to climate change. One thing Leyla’s Ted talk was about was refrigerators and their growth over time. She says refrigerators are a leading cause of 40% of our food is wasted. While yes that is a big factor, I also think proportions play a bigger role. As a single girl living alone, I can hardly buy food without having to overbuy because they only come in large proportions. I think greens are a great example. I am a fan of spinach, kale, and arugula but I hate buying these because they only come in huge containers. I know I won’t be able to eat all of that before it goes bad! But I still love my variety of greens and get sick of having to eat the same over and over again. Stores should create variety packs with different slots for the different kind of greens. Just think.. that lettuce didn’t magically appear in a clear plastic container in your local Sprouts store. Someone had to grow that food. Make that container. And the likeliness that food was even grown in your state is slim to none.

Imagine if… we designed products that engaged the user in a more efficient use. Or if we developed products as part of a closed loop system or sold the service rather than the product. Picture a future where you don’t own a refrigerator, or washing machine, or microwave. You owned the service and “rented” these items instead. So anytime your microwave broke down, you wouldn’t have to trash it and buy a new one, but there was a microwave repairman that came to your home and fixed it for you. We have to change our ways and find smart, more system-based, innovative solutions to these problems. And just remember, consumption is one of the biggest problems. Design is one of the best solutions.

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