Biophilic Design and Wellness: Non-Rhythmic, Thermal and Airflow, and Water Patterns

The next three principles in our biophilic design series are non-rhythmic stimuli, thermal and airflow variability, and presence of water. Like visual and non-visual patterns, these three elements work to create a space that encourages a connection with nature, and in turn, releases profound health benefits within us.


Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli

This pattern’s emphasis is on providing moments of unexpected change and stimulation. Movement and sensory effects are inherently brief (no more than 20 seconds every 20 minutes), yet in this short period, they are able to provide interest to the observer. Often created to be seen in one’s peripheral vision, non-rhythmic stimuli are subtle, yet powerful in their unpredictable nature.

Imagine the flight of a butterfly or the journey of a cloud. Though each is profoundly different each time it is viewed (the butterfly’s direction always shifts, and the shape and speed of a cloud can vary dramatically), they are naturally-occurring moments that bring us great calm and serenity. It’s a chance to get joyfully distracted – even if only for a moment – and in this, it can help us reset our minds and refocus our energy.

Non-rhythmic stimuli can be achieved in a space without access to naturally-occurring elements, too. Something as simple as shifting light throughout the day or simulating nature sounds that vary in quality and timing can be incredibly impactful to our physical and mental well-being.

 
This patio in Indonesia sits underneath a wooden pergola, which provides varying pockets of shade as the sun makes its way across the sky. / Image by    Sonnie Hiles via Unsplash

This patio in Indonesia sits underneath a wooden pergola, which provides varying pockets of shade as the sun makes its way across the sky. / Image by Sonnie Hiles via Unsplash

 
 
This luxurious indoor fireplace in this building’s lobby provides unexpected visual stimulation as the flames flicker. / Image via ASID Academy

This luxurious indoor fireplace in this building’s lobby provides unexpected visual stimulation as the flames flicker. / Image via ASID Academy

 
 
Climbing greenery hangs over this Polish building’s window, offering non-rhythmic sensory stimuli each time a breeze ripples the leaves. / Image by    Pawet Czerwinski via Unsplash

Climbing greenery hangs over this Polish building’s window, offering non-rhythmic sensory stimuli each time a breeze ripples the leaves. / Image by Pawet Czerwinski via Unsplash

 

Thermal and Airflow Variability

The pattern of thermal and airflow variability incorporates slight shifts in temperature and airflow to allow for a flexible and comfortable space. Whether simulated or natural, shifting this element of a room can lead to better concentration and a more productive work ethic.

While choosing materials and systems that work to better control temperature variations can have a major impact on a space (e.g. window treatments or HVAC controls), we can achieve thermal and airflow variability through additional methods as well. Orientation of seating (furniture) and the intentional placement of certain spaces in relation to the overall building structure can help this pattern come to life. For instance, indoor/outdoor spaces such as protected/covered patios or balconies can provide the comforts of indoor seating with the breezes and views of nature. Likewise, opting for a desk that can move to a standing position can help to alter the airflow of the room and provide a flexible work space.  

Variety is key when it comes to this pattern, and it is clear that when we emulate nature in our personal environments in terms of temperature and airflow, our bodies react in positive ways, finding immediate comfort in the change, however subtle or slight.

 
Rooms that open up onto sun-soaked balconies offer residents sweeping views of the sea and provide ample natural airflow ventilation. / Image by    Andre Benz via Unsplash

Rooms that open up onto sun-soaked balconies offer residents sweeping views of the sea and provide ample natural airflow ventilation. / Image by Andre Benz via Unsplash

 
 
This home opens onto a pristine Japanese garden, offering residents tranquil views and increasing airflow to the space. / Image via ASID Academy

This home opens onto a pristine Japanese garden, offering residents tranquil views and increasing airflow to the space. / Image via ASID Academy

 
In this chic modern home, the dining area opens up to the patio via sliding glass doors, creating a shift in thermal dynamics and airflow. / Image via    Aestate

In this chic modern home, the dining area opens up to the patio via sliding glass doors, creating a shift in thermal dynamics and airflow. / Image via Aestate


Presence of Water

Water as a pattern is essential to design because it is inherently calming – especially when incorporated into an otherwise unnatural setting. It can both capture interest and lower stress, combining a sensory impact that can be visual, auditory, or experienced through touch.

The babbling sound from an intentionally-placed fountain can bring a sense of serenity to a space, while glimpsing a flowing creek or river from your home or office window can encourage feelings of positivity. Even an unexpected simulated form of water, from an aquarium filled with brilliantly-colored tropical fish to a waterfall sculpture at a building’s entrance, can be uplifting and increase our memory and physiological benefits.

The presence of water is a salve for our senses, and as long as it is incorporated into a design in an intentional way and is not overwhelming (e.g. too-powerful waves can actually be a distraction), then it can truly change the way we interact with our environments.

 
A strategically-engineered dam provides calming waterfall sounds in the middle of this city in Switzerland. / Image by    Ricardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

A strategically-engineered dam provides calming waterfall sounds in the middle of this city in Switzerland. / Image by Ricardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

 
 
In the courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, pools of water break up the stone and concrete, bringing a sense of nature to an otherwise more industrialized indoor space. / Image via ASID Academy

In the courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, pools of water break up the stone and concrete, bringing a sense of nature to an otherwise more industrialized indoor space. / Image via ASID Academy

 
 
A fountain in the center of this Moroccan riad courtyard provides calming sounds to its residents, and offers a welcome sight each morning. / Image by    Federico Gutierrez via Unsplash

A fountain in the center of this Moroccan riad courtyard provides calming sounds to its residents, and offers a welcome sight each morning. / Image by Federico Gutierrez via Unsplash

 
 
A tranquil indoor water feature adds an element of peace to this home, providing opportunity for reflection. Additionally, the water reflects the outdoors in its surface, adding visual depth and dimension to the space. /    Image Source

A tranquil indoor water feature adds an element of peace to this home, providing opportunity for reflection. Additionally, the water reflects the outdoors in its surface, adding visual depth and dimension to the space. / Image Source

 

Together, these three patterns evoke a sense of wonder and give our minds and bodies the chance to acquire calm as they would in a natural setting. With biophilic design, we have the potential to live our lives to their highest abilities – and to do so without increasing our stress load.

How might you experience these incredible elements in your own spaces? Perhaps you have a view of the ocean from your kitchen window, or maybe you’ve strategically placed plants indoors so that their leaves rustle each time the heat or AC turns on. Whatever your preferred experience of non-rhythmic stimuli, water, or airflow variability, be sure to place these at the forefront of your design, for their impact is profound.

 

By Megan Johansson, Contributor to Vela Creative

Megan Johansson