A quirky and complicated discussion of biophilia – what it is, why it is, and how it matters. Set aside an hour to just go with the flow as Robert Lamb and John McCormick roam the savannas of biophilic theory. Very enjoyable.
This week I’m in Singapore as a Visiting Professor in the Biophilia Research Cluster, based in the Department of Psychology at James Cook University. I’ve seen dozens of fascinating examples of biophilic design here, but this post is about just one of them – the incredible gardens at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
It’s a general and acute care hospital which opened in 2010. Laik Teng Lit, its CEO, commissioned a design which lowers stress levels and helps patients and visitors to relax in what can so often be a naturally very anxious situation. The result is an astonishingly vibrant environment with dense plantings, water features, and carefully designed natural materials across the six floors of the building.
The hospital is keen to engage its visitors in auditing the wild inhabitants too, so it records all the many different birds and butterflies spotted on the site.
Some weekends there are free classes in yoga, tai chi, and meditation which are open to the public and take place next to the groundfoor waterfall amidst a biophilic riot of colourful plants and foliage.
And there’s another added extra. A rooftop organic community garden is cultivated and managed by local residents who grow a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of the produce is given to patients and some is sold to pay for the upkeep of the space.
Coincidentally, this week The Conversation featured an article about a rooftop garden project at a church in Sydney, Australia. This one was designed for patients recovering from mental illness, but the principles remain the same – stress reduction, wellbeing, and general health benefits.
At Khoo Teck Puat we were told that members of the community are encouraged to spend time in the hospital’s social spaces. In other words, you don’t have to be sick to go there. And indeed, many students take their laptops and study amongst the flowers, whilst older people and families also regularly go to the hospital just to chill out and relax!
In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote: “Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. If I could really look out the electronic window of my living room in Boston and see the Alps, hear the cowbells, and smell the (digital) manure in summer, in a way I am very much in Switzerland”.*
As founder of the MIT Media Lab, and an architect by trade, he knew what he was talking about twenty plus years ago. It’s taken quite a while to even begin to make his vision a reality, but we’re getting closer. A while ago I wrote about virtual reality in cruise ships, where you’re actually on a real ship but in an upgraded cabin sporting a virtual balcony.
Now, as CNBC reports, a growing list of airlines and vacation spots are courting visitors with virtual reality vacation experiences offering digital options that nearly rival the real thing.