Health benefits associated with engaging with nature have long been a matter of interest.
Studies show the positive impact that time spent outdoors, and the incorporation of greenery in residential spaces, has on our mental and physical health.
The term biophilia was used by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in 1973 and was later revived by Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book ‘Biophilia’. He defined it as “the innate sense of belonging to the natural world”.
This innate tendency to seek connections with nature is indispensable for human mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Unsurprisingly, this crosses over into the spaces that we live in, with biophilic design being a natural extension of the original theory.
Biophilic design is used in architecture, connecting occupants with nature through lighting, ventilation, greenery, use of natural elements such as water, wood and stone, and natural shapes and forms in furniture or building design.
Both direct and indirect design methods are used to incorporate natural aspects into manmade surroundings and are successfully employed in developments, businesses and private properties across the Cayman Islands.
“Biophilia relates to the human need to connect to nature,” explains Michelle Butler of Design Studio. “This concept has been inherent in design and architecture throughout the ages and I think has become even more critical in today’s living environments in order to balance the increased density and technology in our homes and workplaces.
“By incorporating nature into the design of a space, we can satisfy our innate desire to connect with the natural world and reap the health, environmental and even economic benefits that have been seen to come along with it.”
Air and light
Examples of this are the use of large windows and natural ventilation, as utilised at Health City Cayman Islands, where these methods are used to create a holistic environment within a medical setting.
“I feel that the most important element of biophilic design is light,” says Michelle. “Natural light is truly essential to our well-being, and spaces that are designed to harness natural light will always be happier spaces.”
The TIDES development in South Sound uses many methods of inviting natural light, both by way of huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and open ceilings in smaller confined spaces within the building.
The internal elevator atriums are open to the sky, and feature tall palm trees, meaning that wherever you are in the building, nature is not far away.
Natural light also streams in through the Kimpton Seafire spa’s open-roofed, natural stacked-stone walkway, as well as through large, sky-high windows and light tunnels at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort’s Botanika Union spa.
“One of our main aims has been to make the best use of natural light – being in a sunny tropical climate like Cayman, it would be foolish not to,” explains the Marriott’s Director of Spa & Retail, Rachel Belton. “During a certain time of the day, the communal areas of the spa are bathed in a beautiful, warm, golden light – it really sets the tone and welcomes guests in.”
Wood and water
One of the most obvious uses of natural elements is the incorporation of plants in indoor settings, and research suggests they improve well-being and productivity, and reduce stress.
Examples include the foliage in small nooks at No. 11 Spa, and Botanika Union’s use of real plants and nature-inspired artwork. There are also living (or faux) walls at Hurley’s, Foster’s Camana Bay, and the new Living.ky outdoor showroom at Pasadora Place.
Greenery adds a relaxing and refreshing touch to any interior design style.
Wood also adds a rustic and natural feel to any space. From the smooth wooden boards behind Foster’s branding on their Camana Bay façade, to natural wood grains as in furniture and artwork at the Marriott, and Kimpton Seafire. Even more noticeable is the natural wood art features such as the driftwood sculpture hanging above the Kimpton Seafire’s AVE bar.
Water, too, introduces immediate serenity to an interior setting.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s La Prairie Spa utilises this method. Clients enter through a foyer with walls resembling ice sheets, and the sound of waterfall envelopes passers-by.
It is not just commercial spaces that benefit from biophilic design; homeowners can bring the outside indoors. This can be achieved indirectly through pictures of outdoor spaces, the use of aged patinas and faux foliage, or, directly, through the use of natural wood furniture, natural light, water features and plants.
“There are many ways to bring nature into your home and the simplest is by introducing plants into your rooms,” advises Michelle. “Not only do plants look gorgeous, especially here in our tropical environment, but they also help to keep the air clean, and they are proven to reduce stress.
Michelle says that a biophilic approach to design should ideally start by considering your specific living context and embracing those elements that are local and sustainable.
“This can happen at any stage and for any size of space and really involves showcasing and celebrating the elements that make our environment unique,” she says. “We are so lucky that in Cayman our living environment offers so much beauty to draw from.”
Originally published in InsideOut magazine, Issue 37, Spring Summer 2020.