Melanie Colburn

Bill Browning article

On January 26, USGBC Northern California brought visionary Bill Browning into town. Bill’s firm, Terrapin Bright Green, is a leader in research on and application of biophilia—the innate affinity of humans for nature and natural settings.

A sold-out crowd gathered for Bill’s engaging presentation, where he shared how to understand biophilia around us and what science tells us about the effects of these patterns on our brains. Simply allowing views of a natural scene can reduce stress, measured by heart rate and cortisol levels. Controlling light intensity, color and duration can either support or fight against our natural circadian rhythms. Incorporating biophilic patterns into building design can lead to happier and healthier occupants.

Some interesting lessons of biophilia in practice:

  • Hospital patients with a view of green space recovered more quickly, with fewer pain meds, than those looking at a brick wall.
  • SMUD adjusted desks in a call center 11 degrees from perpendicular so that occupants could look outside without fully turning their heads. Average revenue per workstation increased $3,000 in the following year.
  • Representations of nature, such as pictures or video screens, are better than nothing, but they don’t have nearly the same effect as the real thing.
  • Positive benefits from getting out into nature can begin to accrue from only five minutes of exposure.

Partners in the Building Health Initiative participated in a workshop on biophilia the following day at Clif Bar headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. The LEED Platinum facility was constructed using many principles of biophilia, and their CEO, Kevin Cleary, gave an inspiring welcome speech about how sustainability and connection to nature are a core aspect of their company’s culture and strategy.

This presentation and workshop was the first in a series of Building Health Initiative lectures and workshops planned for 2016. Sound expert and TED speaker Julian Treasure will be joining us for the next expert-led program on March 16. Join us to learn about the effect of sound on people and how we can design offices, schools and hospitals where sound has a positive consequence.

Further reading from Terrapin Bright Green: