Interior design is far more than aesthetics.
A well-designed space can support the mental & physical wellbeing of its occupants and establish a profound sense of belonging.
This last point is what biophilic design calls material connection with nature and it’s the subject of this month’s episode of Biophilic Moodboards.
Local identity: a philosophy coming from afar
Creating material connection with nature means designing buildings & interiors that are contextual to their surroundings. Otherwise stated: spaces that are strongly connected with their local environment.
Frank Lloyd Wright has been the first to embrace the importance of local identity. He named his philosophy organic architecture, a term that refers to:
- conceiving all parts of a building as harmonious components of a single whole
- deeply integrating man-made architecture (and interiors) with their natural surroundings
"A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there."
Cit. Frank Lloyd Wright
The quintessential example of this philosophy is Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater: a house that merges perfectly with its green surroundings. The waterfall is natural but it's incorporated in the design so well that it seems to originate from the home itself!
The benefits of a strong local identity
The reason why local identity is mentioned as a biophilic design tool lies in human wellbeing as well as in the role of design as a discipline.
And if these natural materials are also local, they will create an even stronger bond between outdoor environment and interiors, allowing people to experience their surroundings on a much deeper level.
From a wider perspective, incorporating local natural materials in a design makes for more authentic and deeper interiors.
For instance, a wood cladding can be made with locally salvaged wood or with any other wood, and the difference might not even be apparent to the eye.
But – when diving below the surface of aesthetics – a cladding made with local salvaged wood elevates the space to a whole new level.
Design choices like this give a space a distinctive identity, one that belongs to a specific geographical location.
And one could even argue that learning to design interiors & buildings with a strong local identity could teach us humans something about how to live gracefully on this planet.
How to create local identity in interiors
Integrating the local environment in a design starts with the architecture.
Examples might be designing a home around an existing tree, extending a rocky wall inside a building or integrating the natural slope of the site in the project.
Prioritizing indoor-outdoor living spaces and designing around the outdoor view are other powerful ways of blending the natural surroundings in a design.
Thoughtful material selections and colour palettes can also establish a strong connection with the local natural environment. Think about a local stone used as a wall finish or a sandy palette for a coastal location.
Last but certainly not least is décor, a.k.a. the finishing touches that are layered on top of everything else.
Branches, rocks, shells, leaves will all bring the outdoors in. And by looking at them, the memories of a walk in the woods or a trip to the seaside will also emerge, making the space more personal and meaningful for its occupants.
The same philosophy can also be applied beyond interiors and into urban design.
You know that feeling that modern cities tend to look all kind of the same? Well, an extensive use of local natural materials in urban areas would definitely help to give cities a more site-specific identity!
Biophilic design and sustainability
A strong bond between buildings, interiors and the local environment explains the relationship between biophilic design and environmental sustainability.
One of the biggest threats that the natural world is facing is that – while urban areas grow bigger – nature has less and less space.
This is because – until now at least – we’ve considered nature and urban areas as two strictly different environments.
But what if they could coexist?
A biophilic approach that welcomes natural elements – including native plants – in the city, is beneficial for
- humans - as it creates a nurturing living environment
- nature - as it gives it more space to thrive
Embracing biophilic design in urban & interior design could therefore transform our concepts of city and home to the benefit of both humans and the planet!
And what better time than now?
The challenging times we’re living call for a deep reconsideration of what “normal” means in all areas of life, including the way we see architecture and interiors.
Our homes and cities can live in symbiosis with nature and – now more than ever – we have the occasion to make this happen.
We’re called to build a different world, and we have the occasion to build a better one, where humans and nature will thrive together, not against each other!
- Joye Y. (2007). Architectural Lessons From Environmental Psychology: The Case of Biophilic Architecture. (opened in a new window/tab) Review of General Psychology, 11 (4), 305-328.
- Lichtenfeld S., Elliot A.J., Maier M.A. , Pekrun R. (2012). Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance. (opened in a new window/tab) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38 (6), 784-797
- Tsunetsugu Y., Miyazaki Y., Sato H. (2007). Physiological Effects in Humans Induced by the Visual Stimulation of Room Interiors with Different Wood Quantities. (opened in a new window/tab) Journal of Wood Science, 53 (1), 11-16
- The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design is a framework conceptualized by Terrapin Bright Green