Despite the documented benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature firsthand, students spend most of the day indoors and a growing proportion of that time is spent staring at a computer screen. This reality reinforces the value of applying biophilic design principles to a new school building or campus renovation to create a better learning environment for students.
Biophilic Design Defined
Biophilic design has received growing attention in recent years. The idea that nature connections help to inspire, calm and nurture us almost seems like common sense. Biologist Edward O. Wilson, who literally wrote the book “Biophilia,” describes our innate tendency to affiliate with nature.
Biophilic design acknowledges this reality and focuses on strategies to increase occupant connections to the natural environment. This is achieved through a combination of direct connections, simulated nature, and space and place conditions.
When we think about interior design, we tend to focus on the visual aspects. Magazines, home improvement shows and retailers highlight “wow” spaces, focusing on the final touches and products deemed essential for beautiful results. Other aspects such as functionality, comfort, ergonomics, health or safety, are often an afterthought, if we consider them at all.
While some have questioned their long-term viability, both public and private libraries are reinventing themselves and, according to the 2018 American Library Association report, continuing to serve as a valuable resource for diverse groups of people. Libraries face many similar challenges to those of retailers, as large numbers of people turn to digital resources. However, the convenience of digital shopping, reading, learning, communicating and so forth can be isolating and less rewarding. This is where public libraries can step in to provide positive interactions, teachable moments and a collaborative community experience available to everyone regardless of their financial status.
Outdoor pools are associated with warm weather fun, relaxation and low impact exercise. Indoor pools can offer these same benefits year-round in every climate. However, indoor pools require careful considerations by the design team to provide a comfortable and appealing space that will endure for many years. We’ve asked a couple of our designers for their thoughts and ideas to create a successful indoor pool space, also known as natatoriums or aquatics centers, whether for a retirement community, school or college campus, community center, hotel or other hospitality venue.
During the warm summer months, some of our favorite spaces to design are outdoors—porches, patios, courtyards, dining terraces, pool decks and rooftop gardens. The finishes, furniture, lighting and accessory options for these spaces are continually expanding and evolving, allowing for greater variety and creative approaches.
A particularly fun aspect of designing outdoor spaces is that you can really pop up the color. If there’s one space where you can feel free to go bold, it’s outdoors! Outdoor living spaces also work well with whimsical touches like a dragonfly pattern or quirky garden statue. However, it’s important to follow a few basic design principles to create inviting outdoor spaces that people will want to use and can access comfortably.
Work your way. Sit your way. Learn your way.
Learning commons, maker spaces, break-out rooms and HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out)—these are just a few of the terms to describe rapidly evolving educational spaces. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are the four C’s of 21st century learning. Furniture manufacturers have developed a wide array of innovative selections to help create zones that foster these skills and allow students to work, sit (or stand) and ultimately learn in the manner that works best for them.
As the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia have been steadily increasing, the demand for specialized settings is likewise on the rise. There is also a growing movement to empower our towns and cities to better support those with dementia, so they can choose to remain in their personal homes and fully engage with others (not just others with dementia) for as long as possible. In either scenario, we believe careful and respectful design strategies can function as a silent “enabler” to support dignity, personal expression and independence to the greatest extent possible.
Most Seinfeld fans can remember George Costanza’s father randomly shouting “serenity now” in an effort to achieve calm in the chaotic world of the Costanza family. However, he may have been able to achieve the same effect by simply eliminating some of the clutter in his home.
Drawing from Japanese design principles, minimalism exemplifies the concept of “less is more.” Simplicity, openness, and often symmetry are some of this disciplined style’s guiding principles. And while the removal of non-essential elements is key, the end goal is not to create stark or sterile spaces. Instead, a minimalist approach to design helps draws attention to outside views, architectural features, key furnishings or striking artwork. The following are a few minimalist design tips to help create peaceful, appealing spaces by reducing visual distractions and interior clutter.
As students head back to the classroom, tablets, laptops and even smartphones are increasingly among the learning tools at their disposal. And it’s not just students who expect technology to be available at their fingertips. In today’s world, technology accommodations—recharging stations integrated into the bedside lamp in our hotel room, table ordering systems at our local restaurant and WiFi hot spots just about anywhere we go—are commonplace. From space planning and programming to lighting and furniture selections, interior design solutions must include considerations for remaining connected comfortably, easily and without compromising style.
Based on our project experiences, industry research and, perhaps most importantly, numerous post-occupancy evaluations over the years, we have developed very specific guidelines for our designers to reference when making seating selections. These considerations, designed primarily to support older consumers, can be useful for a wide range of commercial applications such as restaurants, medical office waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and other public spaces.
Embracing the concept of universal design to accommodate individuals with temporarily or permanently reduced abilities often results in more comfortable, inviting and user-friendly spaces for all. For example, our designers primarily specify seating with arms since this makes it easier for an elderly person who may have diminished mobility and upper body strength to get up from the chair. Most people, not just seniors, find chairs with arms easier to “exit.” Likewise, a back recline from the seat of less than 100 degrees is typically comfortable for people of all ages.
The first consideration when selecting seating is the dimensions. Public spaces are not the place for overstuffed or oversized chairs that can be difficult to get in or out of and are often tempting for young children to climb. However, it’s important to note that it is also a good idea to specify 10 to 20% of seating in bariatric sizes which are different from what we’re showing here.
Pull up a Chair
Especially in dining venues where chairs are moved constantly, it’s critical to specify the appropriate glides based on the flooring types. We recommend casters, preferably two in the front, on carpeted surfaces to aid in moving chairs in and out. Cross-support stretchers between legs provide stability and help prevent the legs from loosening due to the constant pushing and pulling by diners.
The seat should be removable for ease of cleaning and made of a firm foam material rather than using down fills. Supportive cushions prevent the bottom of the seat from sinking much lower than the height of the occupant’s knee to maintain comfort and ease of mobility when exiting the chair. There are a wide range of moisture-resistant fabrics available to provide the desired durability and easy care without compromising comfort or aesthetics.
Perhaps the most important universal design consideration when making seating selections is recognizing the one size will never fit all. Therefore a variety of options should be provided whenever possible. For The Harvest Table at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, Pennsylvania we incorporated seven types of seating options. This includes traditional two and four-top tables, a 12-seat farmhouse table, traditional booth seating, banquette seating, circular booths and comfortable “hip-height” bar stools at the ice cream counter. And that’s not even counting the comfortable chairs and sofa by the fireplace leading into The Harvest Tables or the café tables along the main street corridor.
Some good resources that provide more information on this topic are: Beautiful Universal Design: A Visual Guide by Cynthia A. Leibrock and James Evan Terry and Residential Design for Aging in Place by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas.
Derek Perini, IIDA, Senior Interior Designer, has 17 years of experience providing interior design solutions that support the needs of those with physical challenges. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a jury member for the Environments for Aging Design Showcase and a grader for the International Interior Design Association, National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.