Biophilic Design - the growing trend for calming restorative hospitality spaces

20/01/2017 09:34:29

What relevance do stress levels have with the world of hospitality architecture and design?

By Oliver Heath

Whilst I wouldn’t dare think of travelling without my smart phone and tablet I’m more than aware that we are living in an always on culture; one where where technology never rests, yet we need to.

It should come as no surprise that stress levels are rising globally. In fact the World Health Organisation states that the stress related issues of cardio-vascular disease and mental health issues will be the leading contributors to illness by 2020.

But what relevance does this have to the world of hospitality architecture and design?

How about improving customer experience, increasing perceived value of your product, increased return visits, not to mention improved well-being and productivity from your staff?

It’s a well-known hospitality standard that guests are prepared to pay more to look over views of nature - be it a beach, water, trees, or natural landscapes rather than man-made views of buildings or even carpark.

Photo provided by Interface

Photos provided by Oliver Heath

Biophilia meaning “a love of nature” explains why we put such value in this connection with nature. Biophilia is a concept popularised in the 1980’s as a result of increased rates of urbanisation and the negative impact this has on our mental and physical states. It suggests that we are all genetically predisposed to react positively to lush bio-diverse natural environments.

Biophilic Design is the resulting emerging science and style that aims to strengthen human’s innate connection with nature in the built environment as a means to reduce stress and aid mental physical and cognitive recuperation. It’s a style that focusses not on impressive “extrinsic” or even flashy displays of design but focusses on an “intrinsic” approach - creating spaces that soothe and energise the mind and body; bringing well-being back to optimum. Reinforcing the principles behind the style are over 30 years of psychological research papers with tangible and valuable findings.

Of course many hospitality spaces are located in urban environments, so not all have direct access to nature. But this is precisely where biophilic design has the greatest potential benefit to soothe, reduce stress and restore the mental and physical states of guests. 

There are 3 key constructs to Biophilic design:

  • Improving the direct connection to nature – be it trees, plants, light and water
  • Using natural analogues – textures, patterns and colours that mimic nature
  • Considering our emotional spatial response to spaces - creating restorative, energising and enticing spaces

Research papers demonstrate that simply looking at real forms of nature such as plants, trees and water can reduce blood pressure levels and heart rates – improving rates of stress reduction and relaxation. In hospitality design this can mean the introduction of green walls, planting features and water features.

Access to natural light is also an essential feature allowing us to re-balance our circadian rhythms – the body’s reaction to periods of light and dark which affects our physical behaviour, mood and hormone release – in particular our melatonin and serotonin balance – essential for getting a good night’s sleep.

But where access to real forms of nature aren’t viable, natural analogues are a design essential to aid mental recuperation. These are materials, colours and textures that represent, copy or mimic those found in nature. A great example of this is seen in carpet manufacturer, Interface’s biomimetic range of carpet tiles, which take inspiration from natural grassy meadows, weather worn timber, rock strata and forest floors. The use of these materials sets the conceptual tone to build a calming restorative biophilic space - quite literally from the ground up.

Other materials that have been shown to have benefit are timber floors and wall cladding, stone and certain colours such as calm neutrals and hits of vibrant greens, reds and yellows – many of those found in a healthy natural savannah like environment. 

Photo provided by Interface

Creating spaces that cater for a range of daily human emotional and spatial needs is essential; and biophilic design takes this into consideration. Recognising that we need to orientate ourselves through a sense of prospect when we enter spaces or look over landscapes; or need to seek places out of main circulation routes to create places of restorative calm and refuge are valuable routes to spaces that make us feel safe and rested and ready to face the world once more.

Photo provided by Oliver Heath

Biophilic design has been proven to create tangible financial benefits to numerous building types. In workplace design research, commissioned by Interface and led by Organisational Psychologist, Professor Sir Cary Cooper has demonstrated that staff in offices with natural features can be 6% more productive, 15% more creative and report a 15% improvement in personal wellbeing. Whilst research investigating retail environments filled with natural elements such as plants, water features and natural light increase visitors perception of the value of goods, lengthens the duration of visit and encourages return visits- all concepts that would benefit the hospitality industry. 

Strengthening the human connection with nature is a beneficial design strategy for the hospitality sector - improving visitor’s holistic experience and staff productivity. Well-being is too important to today’s society to be relegated to basement spas – it’s time to realise the many benefits of Biophilic Design by integrating it into the wider environment that we live, work and rest in.

Oliver Heath
Twitter: oliver_heath

To download the research by Sir Cary Cooper entitled “The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace”, take a look at

Find out more about the emerging science and style of Biophilic design and its numerous benefits by joining Oliver Heath present seminars at: