a biophilic year: loosening boundaries in design

in a biophilic year

“learning from nature, boundaries turn into filters that selectively leave out and let in”

cit. a biophilic year - #204

Partitions define spaces and divide functions in them. But have we gone too far? What if boundaries evolved into filters that selectively leave out and let in? Let’s explore…

indoor partitions

Interior partitions divide functions in a space. They provide privacy, dampen sounds and create separate worlds inside a bigger space.
But are walls the only way?
Through the years, rigidly partitioned interiors have given way to open living spaces where daytime areas are merged together.
With the pandemic, the discussion around open vs partitioned spaces has become actual again. Domestic spaces have been required to serve many more functions than they usually would, which in some cases has highlighted a lack of privacy in open spaces.

Going forward, it might be appropriate land somewhere in the middle.
Open spaces make the most of natural light and let smaller footprints feel airier. But mostly, they encourage a spontaneous, unconstricted use of the space. Looking towards the future, our spaces will need to be able to accommodate changing functions, adapting to flexible life patterns.
From a design perspective, this suggests the use of a wide array of partitions that include walls but also encompass pivotable walls, sliding doors, glazed partitions, as well as looser options such as curtains, open shelving units, and divider screens. All options that increase prospect in the space.

Open retail space divided by floor-to-ceiling greenery.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Foster+Partners (opened in a new window/tab)
Open lounge area partitioned with curtains mounted on curved trails.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Delfina Scotto (opened in a new window/tab)
Bedroom encosed by a glazed wall and given privacy with a curtain.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bellas Artes (opened in a new window/tab)

building envelope

Buildings were born to provide shelter from the elements, but with time they’ve become boxes with tight barriers separating people from their surroundings. Add to it that we spend up to 90% of our time in indoor (mostly urban) settings, and it becomes clear that our relationship with nature has gone lost.

Sheltering from the elements through tight buildings was once considered efficient. But now we know that tighter buildings are not always more efficient. In fact, looser, more flexible solutions often perform better. This translates into breathable building materials, windows that account for ventilation, and innovative façade designs that are able to react and adapt to outdoor conditions.

Loosening building boundaries also means valuing outdoor space as much as indoor space, encouraging a fluid use of the two in an indoor-outdoor living experience. It also means prioritizing outdoor views or creating them when not already available. In both cases, design choices have a primary role.

Pivotable floor-to-ceiling doors creating a seamless indoor-outdoor living space.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Co-lab Design Office (opened in a new window/tab) - Ph: César Béjar (opened in a new window/tab)
Home office setup located in front of a big window..<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Modular Lighting Instruments (opened in a new window/tab)
Indoor-outdoor lounging space.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Cheshire Architects (opened in a new window/tab) - Ph: Sam Hartnett (opened in a new window/tab)

urban planning

The world is becoming more urban and the tendency is likely to continue in the coming years. So designing our future cannot ignore urban design.
Towns and cities occupy the space between interiors and the raw natural world. So far, they have themselves been designed as barriers, setting a stark divide between people (that stay in) and nature (that stays out).

The bet for the future is loosening this barrier, welcoming nature inside urban environments through biophilic cities.
What’s best is that making nature an integral part of the cityscape benefits people and nature at once. Biophilic cities give urban dwellers a healthier, richer and more enjoyable living environment, they contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change, give back precious real estate to nature, and value the processes that rule the natural world.

Similarly, loosening partitions inside the city improves the quality of public space, opening to mixed functions and shared moments, welcoming informal gatherings and exchanges, fostering the creation of stronger communities. In short, providing a better backdrop for life.

Public park enclosed with a wavy and partially see-through corten partition.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Atelier Dreiseitl (opened in a new window/tab) + GreenWorks, P.C. (opened in a new window/tab)
Public park partitoned with water bodies, plants, and changes of level.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: ASPECT Studios (opened in a new window/tab) - Ph: Bing Lu
Public space partitioned in "outdoor rooms" with wooden poles.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: PAJU (opened in a new window/tab)

From interiors to cities, reframing our concept of partition from barrier to filter opens a new horizon, leaving us the chance to choose what’s to leave out and what we should let in, in any given space.

The quote that opens this article is drawn from my book 'a biophilic year: 365 thoughts on the essence and practice of biophilic design'. If you have the book, you’re welcome to reach out and request which topic you'd like to see next in this series!

Biophilic interior design book cover: "a biophilic year: 365 thoughts on the essence and practice of biophilic design".<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

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