Bringing the weather inside is usually the opposite of what you want from a building envelope. However, new research from the University of Oregon, described in an article by The Washington Post, aims to show the physical and psychological benefits of letting nature inside. Signs of nature and change are both beneficial to our well-being, yet we don’t always have access to them when inside buildings—and humans are now spending 90% of our lives inside. But even in an urban setting, where nature may be hard to come by, there’s no escaping the weather. When researchers found ways to bring things like wind and dappled reflections of the sun inside, they found that exposure to these natural movements lowered heart rates, while being less distracting than similar artificially generated movements.
By now, green buildings are a familiar concept, but the article in The Washington Post proposes moving beyond green buildings as we know them today. While green building can be great in new construction, that excludes a lot of existing buildings that could and should also benefit from an intervention of nature. Ideally, buildings should actively demonstrate their relationship with nature, moving beyond simply “doing no harm.”
Adding movement to existing sustainable building techniques can help make inhabitants aware of these green features. An example from the article involves adding a shallow layer of water to a light shelf, which is then rippled by wind, creating sunlight patterns across the ceiling. The movements of light, wind, and rain have been shown to have a calming effect on building occupants. The researchers in the article even studied whether these natural movements could be replicated by software but found that the artificially-generated movements were no substitute for live nature.
However, while bringing nature into the design is often fairly simple in projects such as houses, it can be more of a challenge in institutional projects such as hospitals, schools, and offices. So what smart tricks can be used by architects to add a natural touch to their designs? Below, we have listed a small selection of projects which have each used a different innovative technique to incorporate nature for the benefit of their occupants and the planet.
In urban Bogotá, this effort at creating a “garden hospital” incorporates a solarium space where exposure to nature can be a beneficial part of patient treatment. Through planting and an innovative use of brick, the solarium is protected yet gives access to shifting light patterns, natural ventilation, and fresh air from the plants. The solarium allows patients to have contact with nature via protected cubicles or directly on the patio, and as a result the hospital has since seen a reduction in recovery time.
Another health center, Maggie’s specializes in support for those affected by cancer. This particular Maggie’s Centre focuses on the healing aspects of nature, specifically of trees and wood. The center is built around a tree, which grows up through the middle of the building and can be viewed through glass walls from anywhere within the space.
This office building rethinks the concept of a “green wall” with a double-skin system that includes integral hydroponic trays and a misting system on its outer plant-wall façade. The vegetation modulates light and air within the building and different plant species are organized to create a seasonal aesthetic change on the building’s exterior.
In tropical Vietnam, this university building uses passive strategies to maintain comfort. Large canopies create a semi-outdoor terrace protected from the sun and rain and porous brick screens allow natural light. The small openings in the brick pattern scatter the sunlight coming through, creating constant change throughout the day. Students are protected, yet not isolated, from nature.
In Medellin, Colombia, the new EDU Headquarters building aims to be a “building that breathes,” utilizing an innovative type of passive ventilation. Buoyancy ventilation is better able to respond to increases in the building’s occupancy and is more reliable than wind-driven ventilation. Even without wind, buoyancy ventilation can sustain a pleasant breeze throughout the building.
As nature weaves throughout this office space, specific views are framed, creating shadows that mark the passing of hours and seasons as they change. The form of the building creates openness and transparency for a blended indoor/outdoor experience.
And of course, don't forget to find out about the science behind nature in buildings over at The Washington Post.