Sunday, June 3, 2012

Revitalizing the world (and this blog).

I believe that the writing I'm most drawn to is autobiographical in some way - it's the personal stories I'm most interested in. It's my way of connecting with other people that I otherwise might not get to meet. So when I write, I feel compelled to do the same, to write from an autobiographical point of view. I could write something slightly more impersonal and be more popular, perhaps, but for me it doesn't feel as genuine. Being honest with who you are is important to me.

What's also important to me are several things: interior design and the building arts, the Earth, community, and spirituality. I believe that all of them can intersect in meaningful ways, and during my time at school, I've sought for ways to make that happen. It wasn't until my most recent quarter at SCAD, which entailed beginning my capstone project, that I finally found it: biophilic design.

What is biophilic design?
Biophilic design is an outgrowth of Edward O. Wilson's book, Biophilia. "Biophilia" means "love of life," referring to nature, and biophilic design aims to incorporate this meaningfully into design as a restorative act. Studies have shown that ill, injured, or traumatized and stressed people recuperate faster when they have access to nature in even small ways, such as a window with a view to sky, sunlight, and trees. People respond positively to nature, both consciously and subconsciously. Neuroscientific evaluation goes into the nitty-gritty of why and how, such as subconsciously noticing and responding positively to fractals, but the bottom line is this: if we're able to enjoy sunlight, fresh air, see and touch plants, and get the hint that animals might also enjoy the surroundings, then so do we. We relax more, are more productive, and are generally happier.

As an interior designer who is eco-conscious, however, this has additional benefits. Biophilic design also aims to be sustainable. Daylighting, natural systems of ventilation (or that which successfully mimics them), and natural fabrics and finishes, for example, are very sustainable - it costs much less to air-condition a building if it's done so naturally. Less money is spent on lighting. Materials are less likely to contain VOCs, and if local materials are bought and used, they are contribute to the local economy, cost less to ship, and at least carry the potential to be sustainably harvested and created.

Biophilic design takes many of these wonderful, worthy theories and methods of sustainable design (Cradle to Cradle, LEED, etc.) and says, "This is really, really great, but let's push it one step further and not just heal our environment, but heal people as well." Biophilic design reconnects people with nature, and this disconnection from nature is something I feel deep down has become a societal illness. When we disconnect with nature and with other people, we value it less, and see it more and more as a commodity to be used and thrown away. We see people as commodities to be used and thrown away. We are no longer in communities that sustains every individual in it through interactive and interconnected systems of survival and nourishment, but are in our own little worlds that just happen to neighbor other little worlds. Civilization is founded upon communities, not individuals, and civilization can stand only if its communities reach out and truly support each other.

We have gotten away from the idea of mutual dependence for survival because we haven't felt the immediate need for a long time. With our planet and our societies decaying, however, I feel the time has come to recognize this mutual dependence once again, to acknowledge that we really need each other and for more than survival: we need each other for joy and happiness, to nourish a love for mankind as well.

I recognize that I sound as if biophilic design is our silver bullet to cure everything. I do sound like the recently converted, I know. Is it the magic cure-all? I don't think so, but only because I believe that education comes first. Education is the catalyst for change: not strictly classroom or academic education, but world experience, hands-on work, learning to see through the eyes of another person. Education can help foster empathy and understanding, and asks questions such as, "What can I do?"

I think biophilic design answers "what can I do?" with, "Respect nature by creating your built environment in harmony with it. When you do so, you knit communities together in harmony as well."

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