Biophilic Effects of Imagery in Interior Environments

Biophilic Effects of Imagery in Interior Environments

By:  Daniel Overbey It has been 30 years since Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D., first published his seminal book, Biophilia, which coined the term contending that people have an innate, seemingly hardwired affinity for nature (Harvard University Press, 1984). According to Wilson’s hypothesis, all human beings have a genetically-based relationship to the dynamic sensory effects of nature. Moreover, the potential for biophilic features can produce positive outcomes with regard to human wellness. This notion that people would benefit from connections to nature is not new. According to American author and journalist, Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books, 2005), Chinese Taoists recognized the health benefits of gardens and greenhouses nearly 2000 years ago. Yet, over the past century, the highly-engineered commercial structures of Western cultures have cultivated a standard for tightly-controlled, mechanically-based systems for lighting ventilation, heating, and cooling. As fossil fuel-based energy was seemingly cheap and abundant during the mid-twentieth century, the pesky characteristics of dynamic climatological influences on interior environments prompted many to relegate nature to the back set.  Enter E.O. Wilson and the biophilia hypothesis.  In the decades since Wilson’s publication, architects and interior designers have increasingly appreciated the notion of biophilia and a broader movement toward applying biophilic features to the built environment is emerging.  One of the most readily apparent demonstrations of biophilia relates to the healthcare industry, where connections to nature have been leveraged to promote health and healing. Quality views, operable windows, natural lighting, and places of respite are just a few of the ways that occupants are afforded a “re-connection” with nature in the built environment.  But what about situations where it is simply not possible to put people in actual contact with nature? Some designers theorize that when real nature is not accessible, perhaps the next best option would be to provide an illusion of nature. Interestingly, it appears that in some cases the illusion of nature may prompt some biophilic benefits.  For instance, some healthcare facilities have demonstrated how the installation of a luminous, high-resolution image of nature in a radiotherapy suite or a dental surgery room can provide a sense of expansion and serenity – fostering a sense of relaxation, comfort, and stress-relief.  The Sky Factory, based in Fairfield, Iowa, manufactures an example of a “luminous virtual window” product, called SkyCeiling™. According to The Sky Factory, there is a large body of scientific research in support of the use of simulated views to nature to improve the quality and efficacy of healthcare environments. Aside from strong anecdotal evidence, researchers at Texas Tech University are studying the effects of virtual skylights on hospital patients. This notion that a virtual window can induce physiological and psychological responses similar to that of a real window underscores a broader notion to the effects of imagery in an interior environment. If the eyes are the window into the soul, it would behoove architects and interior designers to recognize that the window works in both directions.   Photo Credit:The Sky Factory Luminous Rectilinear SkyCeilings installed in the Radiotherapy suite provides a sense of expansion and an engaging illusion of real sky that fosters relaxation and comfort in patients. Copyright © 2014 The Sky Factory, LC

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