Presented by: Hotel Executive, October 28, 2018

Author: Felicia Hyde, Design Director, Lifestyle Studio, H. Hendy Associates

As our world continues to urbanize, the theory of “biophilia” has grown increasingly important to our health and wellbeing in the built environment. Biophilia, the “love of life and living systems,” is the innate human desire to connect with nature and other life forms. The concept was introduced in the 1980s by American biologist, theorist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson who studied how the increase of urbanization has led to a disconnection between people and the natural world.

As a result, biophilic design, the infusion of direct and indirect natural elements into the modern built environment was created to fulfill our instinct to be close to nature. Essentially, biophilic design is the intersection of architecture, nature and neuroscience. Research shows that this holistic approach to design offers many health benefits – from reducing stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates – to promoting creativity, productivity and boosting overall mental and physical wellbeing.

As the human population continues to urbanize, businesses, hotels and apartment communities around the globe are incorporating biophilic design to connect people with environments that promote health and wellness. While this design concept is already shaking up the hotel industry, hoteliers can leverage design strategies from multifamily and residential communities to effectively create spaces that enhance the human-nature connection and elevate the guest experience.

Demand for Biophilic Design Increases

Today, Americans spend on average 90 percent of their time indoors or inside a vehicle. As society becomes ever more dependent on technology, we’re getting more and more detached from the natural world. This disconnection has resulted in a substantial increase in our craving for, and relationship with, nature and demand for biophilic design in our homes, workspaces, dining spaces and even travel accommodations. Research shows that by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments. So, it’s crucial that architects and interior designers across all industries commit to elevating the human-nature relationship.

In apartment and residential communities, the integration of natural elements creates an emotional connection for residents – a calming and restorative environment to relax and recharge. Data shows that residential communities that incorporate biophilic design have multigenerational returns such as increased rents and reduced vacancy as a result of increased health and wellness and the memorable experience the property evokes.

Essentially, when people are in a place where they feel good, happy and healthy, they want to stay longer. For hoteliers, this means that properties designed to meet travelers’ desire for affiliation with nature can increase their chances of creating an emotional bond with guests that will encourage them to return and recommend the hotel to others. In fact, guests are willing to spend 36 percent more time in hotel lobbies that incorporate biophilic design and pay 18 percent higher average daily rates for rooms that infuse natural elements. Hotels that feature biophilic design also are generating positive reviews with guests mentioning “experience” twice as often.

Biophilic Design Strategies that Promote Health and Wellness

Biophilic design is a revolutionary concept that interior architects and designers across industries are applying to create memorable experiences for today’s consumers. It’s important to note that this concept is more than implementing plants and vegetation into spaces. Rather, it’s about infusing natural elements throughout a property and creating repeated and sustained engagement with nature from space to space. Here are design strategies and elements hoteliers can consider when creating spaces that effectively enhance the wellbeing of guests:

Indirect and Direct Natural Elements: When designing properties that incorporate biophilic design, consider integrating both direct and indirect natural elements to provide guests with a repeated and deep connection with the natural world. Direct natural elements provide guests with an intimate connection to nature. Examples include (but are not limited to): daylight versus artificial light to improve comfort and morale; plants and vegetation; and rooms with natural ventilation and water elements to elicit a strong and positive response from guests. Also, consider the location of the property and its surroundings. People have a strong and consistent preference for exterior views or access to nature such as parks, lakes and open space.

Indirect design elements to consider include: nature-resembling colors and patterns; natural shapes and forms; images of nature including paintings and decor of flowers, plants and animals; and even if represented through decoration or art, the presence of animals and wildlife sparks emotional interest.

For example, Brio Apartment Homes, an apartment complex designed by the interior architecture team at H. Hendy Associates, features a two-story living wall as soon as you enter the lobby. The space also incorporated a stairway made of reclaimed wood – a natural design element that’s carried throughout the property – from the game room to the club house. Each amenity-rich communal space at Brio, from the leasing office to the uppermost outdoor deck, includes something texturally eye-catching, deliciously fragrant, irresistibly touchable, or musically charged for residents and guests to feel a deep connection to nature.

Appealing to the Five Senses: Biophilia has many positive benefits when it’s evoked through a sensory experience. Sensory elements, from sound to taste and smell, creates a stronger emotional experience for residents and guests. Sound examples include music, sound balancing plants, decor and water elements that create an acoustically balanced space. For touch, implement organic textures and patterns that elicit a feeling of comfort and serenity. For taste and smell, consider welcoming guests with refreshments and an ambient scent that’s incorporated throughout the property. Lastly, infuse earth tones, patterns and vegetation such as ivy walls and green roofs to create a unique experience for guests that leave them wanting more.

H. Hendy Associates created an environment that spoke to all five senses for residents at The Hesby, an apartment community in North Hollywood. The lobby, which features natural materials throughout, a calming floor made of river rocks, and a custom, perforated, LED-lit metal ceiling enables residents to feel a sense of sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city life. The Hesby also includes the calming sound of water fountains, a misted fragrance throughout the property and a custom-made harp for guests to strum for a spa-like feel. The apartment community is a true oasis for The Hesby’s artistic community comprised of artists, producers, writers, dancers, musicians and more to relax and recharge their creativity.

Indoor-Outdoor Spaces: Another strategy for designing spaces that promote health and wellness is to incorporate indoor-outdoor spaces that bridge a gap between guests and nature. At H. Hendy Associates, we encourage our clients to create spaces that cultivate this relationship for residents through the use of garage doors that open to outdoor spaces or open-air rooms that provide residents with access to natural light and air. Examples include open-air clubhouses, indoor-outdoor co-working spaces and fitness areas, and outdoor kitchens, dining spaces and entertainment areas.

The Hesby features several communal indoor-outdoor areas available to residents including the Firefly Court, a large outdoor living room with a fireplace and outdoor theater; The Lemon Lanai, an indoor-outdoor entertainment and dining space; and The Yard, an outdoor ping-pong table and gaming area.

Another Hendy project, Vantis, an apartment complex in Aliso Viejo, features a community area that includes an indoor-outdoor yoga room and outdoor fitness park for guests who want to maximize the health benefits that come with outdoor exercise – from improved focus, increased energy and revitalization.

Key Takeaways

There are several ways to ensure a seamless integration of biophilic design in your hotel property. A critical part of the process is collaborating with your landscape architects to devise a strategy for indoor-outdoor spaces, open-air rooms and infusion of natural elements in advance. This shouldn’t be an afterthought, but rather, worked in concert with the landscape architects as they are mapping out their designs. This will help to ensure that your property seamlessly fosters a connection to nature from the indoor areas to the outdoor spaces.

Whatever you can do to incorporate direct and indirect natural elements into your property will allow your hotel to better maximize the guest experience and stand apart from the competition. Ultimately, designing spaces that effectively enhance the human-nature connection creates an emotional bond for guests and leaves a lasting impression that converts one-time guests to become repeat visitors.