ideas like biophilic design. “A little, tiny, biodiverse
[green wall] will actually have greater impact than one
that’s huge but all a monoculture,” says Browning,
who has particular disdain for green walls in lobbies.
“You want to put it where people will actually see it,
more than just walk by it. To have a benefit, you need
to do interventions where the people are and where
they’re spending time.”
Helena van Vliet, the principal of an epon-
ymous architecture firm outside Valley Forge,
Pennsylvania, says there’s another problem with the
green wall as the poster child of biophilic design:
It over emphasizes the visible. Although our con-
nection to nature is often visual, it is also auditory,
olfactory, and tactile. “We are embodied beings. We
experience space in all different dimensions,” van
Vliet says. “We want to design places that provide a
rich, multisensory experience. That’s what Kellert
calls our birthright. We didn’t evolve in a lunar land-
scape. We evolved in a biodiverse, rich environment,
and we feel well there.”
EQUALLY NOTICEABLE in the images Google
returns of biophilic design is the absence of people.
This is illustrative of the line we’ve drawn between
ourselves and nature, says van Vliet. “We are nature.
The closest we’ll ever get to nature is ourselves,
our own bodies,” she says. Indeed, for every study
pointing to our need for nature, another study demonstrates our inherent need for human interaction.
In his book Social, psychologist Matthew Lieberman
argues that our need to connect with other people is
equal to our need for food and water.
Rosalyn Cama, FASID, EDAC, knows this well.
Cama is the principal of CAMA Inc., a New Haven,
Connecticut-based design studio that since its inception
has specialized in healthcare design. The firm of eight
has designed spaces for the American Cancer Society
and Yale University, and has worked on 11 children’s
hospitals. Over the years, Cama has heard one refrain
from mothers: Let us hold our children. “Moms would
say to me, ‘Just allow me to cuddle them. Let me get
them calm because then I’ll calm down,’” Cama says.
Hospital design often prevents this. The bulky
raised beds, the array of IVs and monitors—these
are vital infrastructure but can also create a barrier
between patients and their families, a beeping, blinking moat of machines, wires, and display screens.
Cama became determined to bridge this chasm. She
worked with IOA Healthcare Furniture to design
and fabricate a height-adjustable reclining chair
that could roll up alongside a hospital bed and mimic
its various positions, allowing parents to hold their
child’s hand or even sleep beside them.
The CAMA Bed Chair, which will be released
later this year, may not initially look like biophilic
design, but Cama says touch is one of the most important senses after a trauma such as surgery. “As human
beings who are well, and up and running around,
most of how you navigate through your day has to
do with what you see and what you hear—those are
your far senses,” Cama says. “But when you’re ill, and
you’ve got these moments of compression, it’s your
near senses that are much more important. So smell
and touch become hugely important.”
FOR ALL ITS BENEFITS within healthcare environ-
ments, biophilia is perhaps most popular in workplace
design. Promises of a workforce that is happier and
healthier—and therefore more productive—have
spurred global tech giants such as Facebook and
Amazon to invest in corporate campuses that mimic
nature in myriad ways. In Seattle, Amazon is currently
constructing a grouping of spherical, greenhouse-like
structures that will be filled with more than 300 spe-
cies of plants, including exotics such as welwitschia. IM
CAMA Inc. developed the
CAMA Bed Chair to enable
physical contact between
hospital patients and their
family members. “When you’re
ill, it’s your near senses that
are much more important,”
Rosalyn Cama says.
Promises of a workforce that is happier
and healthier—and therefore more
productive—have spurred global tech
giants such as Facebook and Amazon
to invest in corporate campuses that
mimic nature in myriad ways.