Architecture and Collaborative Design promoting the Experience of Physiological Health and Well-Being
Building Places that Re-Connect with the Natural World.
“The goal of biophilic design is to create places imbued with positive emotional experiences— enjoyment, pleasure, interest, fascination, and wonder— that are the precursors of human attachment to and caring for place.” - Judith Heerwagen Ph.D.
Biophilic elements have demonstrably real, measurable benefits for human performance metrics such as productivity, emotional well-being, stress reduction, learning, and healing.
Biophilic features foster an appreciation of nature, which can lead to greater protection of natural areas, species conservation, and pollution prevention.
As a species, our lives occur in the balance between our urgent need for safety (refuge) and our yearning for exploration (prospect). All our projects honor and reflect this most profound of human patterns, which is deeply engrained in our shared evolutionary history. Overlooks, balconies, perches of any kind abound; alcoves, window seats and tucked away places affording beautiful sunny and far-away views.
Free Flowing Interior and Exterior Spaces
We view site and building as a series of free-flowing interior and exterior spaces, woven together in a kind of tapestry 2.
Porches, colonnades, courtyards, verandas, pergolas, arbors and trellises are transparent barriers, where public meets private, indoors meets outdoors, light meets shadow; places of crossing over. Architecture as built topography.
Our buildings dynamically respond to climate and weather, open and close, inhale and exhale, encouraging inhabitants to be active participants in the seasons.
Views and vistas become an integral part of interior spaces.
Natural Patterns and Hierarchies of Scale
In our work we aim to engage the same Patterns, Proportions and Hierarchies of Scale found in nature to create built environments that feel alive, coherent and rich with detail, texture, color and opportunity for a multitude of Sensory Connections
In nature diversity, variety and intricacy are held together by an underlying order of natural patterns, proportions and hierarchies of scale, resulting in recognizable and instinctively perceivable geometries, which maintain coherence. 2
Healthy and Local Materials
We are very conscious of protecting the health of our clients as well as of the work crews who build the buildings we design.
We therefore aim to use non-toxic building materials, and materials with no VOC emissions.
We strive to use recycled/recyclable materials, to specify Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) wood and to select products that are local, as well as materials with low embodied energy.
Seasonally Dynamic and Topographic Design
In our work we seek unique solutions, specific to their setting, which aim to dynamically connect with the particularities of local climate, soils, vegetation, topography, water flow patterns, wildlife and the movements of sun and wind.
In our Land Planning projects we favor form based for higher density areas and conservation development for open landscapes, emphasizing green corridors for habitat and species protection, water shed conservation and finding the site-specific balance between development and the preservation of natural and pastoral landscapes.
Dynamic Natural Light and Color
We favor Dynamic Natural Light 2, rhythmical throughout the day and night and indeed throughout the seasons…… offering a variety of light experiences from diffused to direct, from dark shadow to bright sunlight, from sparkling to reflected.
All spaces are specifically designed for a restorative light experience (either stimulating or restful), including multiple exposures, varying light patterns and passive solar gain where possible.
Studies have shown that this kind of variety in light experience captures and re-directs attention, relieves stress and mental fatigue, and improves concentration and ability to focus.
Similarly Natural Ventilation stimulates and re-connects with the natural world, bringing scented breezes and the seasonal sounds of nature into our buildings.
Access to Moving Water
Water carries tremendous symbolic qualities and, as a species, we are drawn to it as if for survival.
We therefore incorporate water in the form of wall or courtyard fountains, or as reflecting pools or ponds in all of our projects.
It offers visual and acoustical restoration , masks unwanted sounds such as road noise and can instill a sense of cooling freshness, privacy and focus into a courtyard or garden setting.
We enjoy creating design mechanisms (channels, runnels, rain chains etc.) through which rain can be made visible, can be listened to as music or collected in fountain basins or cisterns for irrigation or other non-potable uses.
Mystery, Exploration and Discovery
The biologically encoded aesthetic affinity with nature has been instrumental in fostering the capacities for curiosity, imagination, creativity and exploration.
Places, which engage or inspire are revered and sustained from generation to generation.
We often partially veil or screen natural or design-created views, such that the gardens, buildings or rooms only slowly reveal themselves…. in exploration, in a process of gradual and deliberately sequenced discovery.
We purposely weave in nooks, niches, alcoves or other places of idiosyncratic charm.
Such places engage curiosity, imagination and very personal unique experience, eliciting emotional connection and a sense of belonging to a place that feels like home.
Sensory Gardens can be small, as in a courtyard or patio garden, or larger as in a landscape garden….they can be places of healing, socializing or reflection.
The word “Biophilia” was popularized by the Harvard Biologist and Zoologist E.O. Wilson in 1984.
It refers to the inherent human inclination to affiliate with natural forms, systems and processes, especially life and life-like features of the non-human environment. 3
Biophilic Design translates this affinity into the design of buildings and places, which are instinctively experienced as restorative, neurologically nourishing and beautifully alive.
Biophilic Design incorporates Green Building, but considers that true sustainability must include quality of life issues involving human physiological and psychological health and well-being.2
Why the Need for Restorative Design?
Evidence is mounting that we need to look to restorative attributes that allow us to re-connect with nature.
Many of the psychological ailments of our time such as depression, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), anxiety, violence, confusion, isolation and loneliness, as well as many of the physiological problems of our time such as sleep disorders, fertility issues, increased cortisol levels, allergies, asthma and even cancers may directly or indirectly be related to the way we have designed and structured our indoor and outdoor environments.
One common thread between all ailments, psychological and physiological seems to be that of an organism stressed, depleted and unable to cope.
Evolution-Based Aesthetic Response
“ ….our brain evolved in a biocentric, not a machine-regulated world.” (EO Wilson 1984)
A neurological evolution-based understanding of human aesthetic responses is now being established.4
The findings come from a variety of disciplines: cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience in architecture, behavioral genetics, evolutionary biology, environmental sciences, cognitive psychology, biological anthropology, social ecology, photobiology and others.
As a species, most of our emotional, problem-solving, and constructive abilities reflect skills and aptitudes learned in close association with natural systems and processes that remain critical in human health, maturation and productivity.5
An increasing number of studies are beginning to measure a multitude of physiological and psychological benefits of sustained positive connection to seasonally dynamic natural environments.
This connection appears to be a necessity for achieving lives of fitness and satisfaction even in our modern urban society. 5
Denying this genetic dependence is akin to denying our need to breathe and eat.
Contact with nature and the natural variability of daylight, particularly morning sunlight exhibit enhanced healing and recovery from illness, bipolar disorder, and SAD9; this includes direct contact (vegetation), as well as representative depictions ( images) 5.
Contact with nature has been linked to enhanced cognitive functioning, concentration and memory 5
Circadian and Hormonal Balance
Photobiology has shown that the internal circadian clock is set by daylight of specific wave lengths at different times of the day…the circadian rhythm controls the hormones in the pituitary, pineal, adrenal, and thyroid glands.
Regular exposure to dynamic natural sun light avoids a lack of UV-triggered melatonin production, which has been linked to sleep disturbances, carbohydrate cravings, poor performance at task, short term memory loss, depression, anxiety, increase susceptibility to disease 15 including cancer (breast cancer is melatonin sensitive) 13.
Improved Immune Function, Stress Reduction and Reduced Cell Aging
Regular exposure to dynamic natural sun light avoids circadian misalignment (see above), which has been linked to cortisol over stimulation, leading to increased stress, suppressed immune function, insulin resistance, obesity, osteoporosis, and cell aging14.
Restoration becomes manifest in emotions and in lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and improved muscle tension 16.
Vitamin D Metabolism
Human physiology evolved to require direct sun exposure for metabolism of Vitamin D for the development of a healthy musculoskeletal system, preventing rickets and osteoporosis, maintaining muscle strength, and preventing chronic diseases such as type1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis 8
The Healing Sounds…
The peaceful sounds of nature, the sounds of silence, offer welcome rest and healing from our sonically overburdened world.
The tranquility of a garden or garden room allows us to re-connect with our own thoughts and feelings, rejuvenates and restores our inner balance and ability to cope.
“Architecture doesn’t come close to capturing what Helena brings to the table when you work with her. She presents the most elegant solutions for combining work, home, life, and nature. She listened to our needs, and brought warmth and life to the spaces, all on top of her stellar and completely unique design sense.”
Working directly with clients or in collaboration with other architects, landscape architects, designers to incorporate Restorative Biophilic Elements and Biomimetic Systems Thinking into all projects.
High performance passive design based on current scientific understanding of measurable human preferences for successful place-making.
De-stressing, energizing and physiologically restorative.
Weaving of project into existing eco-systems, be it social or natural.
Development of project narrative in word and imagery, to facilitate the intuitive experience of a joy-full, safe and restorative place in terms of physiological well-being.
Design for Intuitive coherence: intuitive place identification, intuitive way-finding.
Helena considers architecture a health care profession. Biophilic Design is the place where sustainability meets health. She is a guest speaker at various universities, both in architecture as well as medical schools, and works with graduate students on master thesis projects in biophilic sustainable design.
Lecture topics include:
“Healing by Design”
Biophilic Architecture as a Partner in Healing & Recovery
A neurological evolution-based understanding of human aesthetic response is now being established. This lecture explores the multitude of measurable physiological benefits of integrating plants, water& natural patterns, textures, colors, forms even olfactory elements into the healthcare environment. We will discuss various recent research studies & examples, which identify Biophilia’s essential role in creating a restorative healing environment. This has been shown to significantly reduce stress, anxiety & pain levels, while increasing the speed of recovery. We will explore how Biophilia supports circadian & hormonal balance; how it contributes to cortisol reduction, measurably improves immune function and thereby greatly contributes to patient and medical staff emotional balance, stress reduction, treatment efficiency & healing.
“Form follows Feeling”
We only sustain what we love!
History has shown, that over time we only sustain Places and Buildings we love and feel connected to on an emotional level. In this lecture for design professionals we explore the specific hardwired elements of our universally shared human aesthetic affinity. How do we reliably & predictably design spaces and places people will love? What are the building blocks, spatial sequences and patterns of designing for human emotional well-being, sense of safety, belonging, adventure, creativity and joy? How do we design places, by which we are deeply touched, which inspire positive memories, and which creatively address the phenomenon of time?
This lecture will provide specific answers to those questions and more.
We will explore evolutionary history, psychology, evolutionary biology as well as current medical research on this subject. We will touch on Cymatics, and discuss the mysterious and universally beloved phenomenon of mid-range fractals, as well as their proven stress reducing qualities.
In short: we will explore how to design for well-being, which has been our birthright all along.
Helena is the driving force behind the Philadelphia Biophilic Cities Project ‘BioPhilly’, which was launched in 2015. BioPhilly’s mission is to promote the important link between human health, and the meaningful daily experience of wild and bio-diverse nature in the city.
Helena van Vliet AIA Dipl.-Ing. is a Biophilic Architect, Researcher & Speaker on Health and the Built Environment.
Born and raised in Germany, Helena holds a Vordiplom in Architecture from the RwtH in Germany, as well as an M Arch from the University of Pennsylvania. She is licensed in the U.S. as well as in Germany.
Helena considers Architecture a Health Care Profession, and has made the creation of spaces, which foster cognitive ease and positive emotional engagement with place her primary area of exploration. She views human attachment to and caring for place as essential for true sustainability as well as for cognitive and physiological well-being.
Helena is a biophilic consultant and facilitates biophilic design workshops and design charrettes. She is a regular contributor at the biophilic design hub Human Spaces, and is a steering committee member for the Biophilic Cities Network. Locally, she is the founder of bioPhilly, a grass roots organization, which promotes wild habitat biodiversity in urban Philadelphia.
As adjunct faculty, Helena teaches biophilic design at Pratt Institute in NY. She is a Senior Thesis Advisor in the M.S. in Sustainable Design Program at Jefferson University, and advises students nationally and internationally on biophilic design.
Helena is a member of the NIH ‘Health in Buildings Roundtable.’ As a guest speaker, she lectures at universities and corporate events on biophilic and design, biophilic urbanism, and on the direct connection between architecture and health.
Ann Rothmann PE ,
Ann is principal in charge of Ann Rothmann Structural Engineering, LLC, an established structural engineering practice with expertise in commercial, institutional, restoration, and residential construction projects. Since Ann established her practice in June 1991, she has provided consulting services on more than 900 building projects. Clients are guarenteed that all design work is carried out by an experienced principal; the same principal who attends project coordination meetings and advises on structural issues throughout the life of the project. The majority of the firm’s work comes from repeat clients and recommendations based on her strong reputation for excellent service and thorough competent design.
Laura Urwin, AIA
Architect, LEED AP
Laura has been practicing architecture for over eighteen years. Her experience includes a variety of building projects including residential, religious, institutional and educational, from initial concept to completion of construction. She is a registered architect in Pennsylvania and Maryland, LEED accredited with the U.S. Green Building Council and a member of the American Institute of Architects.
She holds a Masters in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, MO which instilled a passionate approach to quality design through thoughtful solutions. Her attention to detail, in hand with a solid, creative methodology and emphasis on long term sustainability combine to inform and inspire successful design results.
Networking setup, maintenance and repair of Windows and Apple computers, tablets, cell phones, cameras, and printers. Networking installation, purchasing consultation and instruction on technology devices.
Miriam Franco, Psy.D.,
stress reduction expert
Miriam Franco, MSW, Psy.D. is a psychologist in practice in Wayne, PA .In addition to her practice, she is a Stress Reduction expert who trains health professionals and the public to reduce stress and improve quality of life in the home, work place, medical and educational settings. Dr. Franco is a certified Multiple Sclerosis and a Guided Imagery (GI) specialist. She has published on GI to reduce anxiety and injection anxiety with MS. Dr. Franco consults on improving quality of life for caregivers and persons with chronic illness and trains healthcare professionals to use GI to lower stress, anxiety, depression, prepare people for surgery and challenging medical and life situations. She serves on the Health Care Advisory Council of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America and is a Consultant with the Jefferson Hospital Sleep Disorder Center. Dr. Franco is a Professor of Sociology at Immaculata University. As Founder of the non-profit, The Guided Imagery Foundation, she seeks to develop research funding for GI programs in the community.
Anoki is a San Diego, CA based Graphic Artist and Web Designer specializing in identity, print, web and social marketing development for small businesses, non-profits, start-ups, and creatives of all types. His goal is to provide clients with high-quality concepts, quick service, and effective, user-focused websites and flexible designs that will ultimately benefit their business.