Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bringing biophilia indoors

Ever since I started writing the textscape blog a few years ago, one of the recurring concepts that has affected my thinking about "the textscape" is  biophilia. Whether I am thinking about textscape in its most abstract and allusive senses or whether I'm thinking about it in the prosaic plain of practicing public relations,  I can't get away from that core, underlying concept of biophilia: the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems -- or as E. O. Wilson originally defined it, "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life."

I see biophilia as a kind of text that nature has written within us, into our genes. More than one writer in this tradition has referenced (I don't know if they believe it literally or metaphorically) humankind's "memory" of the savanna, our species' first home. I know my interests -- from John Muir and Frederick Law Olmsted, to E. O. Wilson and Richard Louv and David George Haskell, to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and Bruce Chatwin -- revolve around insights about how being in and moving through nature heals, consoles, calms, renews, nourishes. How it demonstrably affects work productivity, illness recovery, and mood. I see it in the work of my friends in outdoor or wilderness behavioral therapy. I see it in the work of landscape designers and architects in the creation of healing gardens.

I hadn't realized how much this line of thinking had also been embraced by the very people (architects) whose job would seem to be to create non-natural, human-designed environments. So I was surprised to read a post on The Dirt, the American Society of Landscape Architects' blog, that detailed how deeply and thoughtfully architects and landscape architects have been developing "biophilic design" -- intentional design features for inducing the biophilic response. The article, "Biophilic Building Design Held Back by Lack of Data," provides several links to sources, some of which were entirely new to me.

Biophilic building design is another way to see the textscape -- it is how nature, how our potential, generative and healing response to nature, can be written (by humans, intentionally patterned) into our functional environments.