Biophilic Design at Bower
As you explore Bower, you may be surprised to notice slight differences in how you feel. Growing research shows that experiencing sights, sounds, smells and even certain spatial configurations found in nature can induce subtle physical and psychological responses that offer considerable health and wellness benefits. Learning from this research, we know that more frequent and higher quality interactions with nature in our urban buildings can be good for cardiovascular and respiratory health, mental wellness, cognitive performance, stamina and anti-depression. Studies from the fields of psychology, biology, neuroscience and endocrinology supporting this idea were applied to the design of Bower to provide a better urban living experience.
Biophilia: An evolutionary-based theory of human-nature connection
Biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed the biophilia hypothesis in 1984. Humans, on an evolutionary timescale, all descend from ancestors who led lives immersed in nature—walking the uneven earthen ground, smelling the changing seasons and searching the plains for the life-giving sounds of flowing water. Against a backdrop of 200,000 years of homo-sapiens adaptation on earth, 99% of our species’ development on the planet was under conditions of natural forces, in growing stark contrast to our modern urban environments.
This evolutionary psychology offers clues to understanding automatic responses triggered in our modern, man-made environments. Humans have been living in cities just 6,000 years and only in the last 200 years have we experienced the electrification of cities and the automobile. As a species, our brains and senses are much better practiced at navigating across natural terrain than through city streets. This is the Biophilia Hypothesis[i], an emerging field of science studying how people associate with nature and the health benefits of experiencing nature on a more regular basis[ii].
For city buildings like Bower, this means taking special care to design structures and spaces that offer more fresh air, natural light and views to regionally adapted landscapes. According to United Nations data, 55% of the world’s population now live in urban areas[iii]. As more people live in cities, it is increasingly important to human health and development to deliberately increase our frequency and quality of interactions with nature in our urban daily lives.
How Nature Makes Us Feel
The human brain takes in huge quantities of information every second from the surrounding environment and processes it at an astonishing rate, directing our bodies to act, both consciously and unconsciously. To conserve energy, the brain reacts most quickly to stimuli it recognizes and discards the rest. Certain stimuli will pass our conscious mind, directing our subconscious to react, which mostly goes unnoticed. Researchers are beginning to understand more about these automatic reactions made in our body’s nervous system and the cognitive control of this information by the brain through neuroscience[iv]. Certain phobias, like the fear of snakes, can induce an automatic response. The human body reacts to stress-inducing situations like this with increased heartrate, dilated pupils, dryness in the mouth and an impulse to run! This is the automatic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. By contrast, sitting in a cozy window seat or observing a sunset’s warm light, has a very different physiological response. These experiences induce a relaxation state to the nervous system—“rest and digest”—where the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops and the levels of stress hormone (cortisol) diminishes and breathing relaxes. The human body is continuously unconsciously reacting to the information being taken in from its surroundings. Just like flexing a muscle for too long, the human brain and nervous system can become fatigued if stress-inducing sights and sounds, like honking horns or trains, are persistent. Designing spaces that provide relief-inducing sights and sounds can restore balance and be beneficial to human health.
Biophilic Experiences at Bower
While designing Bower, special attention by our architects and designers was given to restoring human-nature connections in the daily resident experience, offering a variety of features, views and amenities to satisfy positive nature-based responses that can refresh your mind. Our spaces were designed to induce feelings of happiness, improved mental concentration, reduced fatigue, reduced stress, blood pressure and heart rate. Here are a few experiences to look for as you explore Bower:
- Daylight and Views: Bower residents are especially connected to the outdoors through plentiful amounts of daylight and views. Ample natural light allows residents to experience changing sunlight and weather patterns, which are beneficial to mental alertness[v]. Bower features View Smart Glass window technology in every apartment and amenity space. The technology features a light-sensitive coating that automatically adjusts to outside light conditions, reducing glare and eliminating the need for window coverings. View Smart Glass provides residents an extended connection to the outdoors and daylight at more times of the day, which would otherwise by obstructed by closed window shades.
- Spaciousness:Large indoor spaces provide welcome relief during short winter days or inclement weather. Bower features several lounges throughout the two buildings, and located on the fourteenth floor of Building 2, residents will find an indoor atrium with tall ceilings and skylights to the outdoors. The spaciousness of this room provides an enhanced environment for creative thought and meditation. Studies have shown that student test scores improve when spending time in tall spaces versus those tested in very low-ceiling rooms[vi].
- Living Plants:The presence of life within spaces, such as healthy living plants, may remind our primordial brain that we are in a hospitable environment, where food and shelter might be found[vii]. A variety of live (but not edible) plants throughout the common spaces of Bower provide this reassurance and comfort to our senses.
- Wonder:Wonder, which is often caused by encountering something surprising, can create moments of curiosity and appreciation. Art installations, skylights and unique architectural features located throughout Bower offer opportunities to experience wonder and can alter our attitudes, making us kinder to and more appreciative of one another.
- Immersive Nature Experiences: According to a 2018 study on the effects of forest walking on the nervous system, just a 15-minute walk in the woods results in significantly improved responses across four different health markers compared to an urban walk. Participants in the study exhibited 12% lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and 7% lower “fight or flight” brain activity on the forest walk than on the urban walk[viii]. Bower, itself, offers lush landscaped outdoor spaces that create a sanctuary and place of refuge from the surrounding busy streets. Bower is also just a 5-minute walk from the Back Bay Fens—a popular spot for outdoor recreation in Boston, including an eclectic mix of walking paths, historic structures, memorials, public gardens and spaces for passive and active sports. Exploring the Fens offers an immersive nature experience in the middle of Boston’s vibrant and bustling Back Bay.
[i] Roger Ulrich, “Biophilia, biophobia and natural landscapes”, 1993, Pg. 74 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284655696_Biophilia_biophobia_and_natural_landscapes
[ii] Kathryn Williams, “Conceptualizing creativity benefits of nature experience…”, 2018 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494418304092
[iii] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html
[iv] Jin Fan, “An information theory account of cognitive control”, 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4151034/pdf/fnhum-08-00680.pdf
[vi] Higher ceilings, mindset of freedom and abstraction, https://www.fastcompany.com/3043041/why-our-brains-love-high-ceilings
[vii] Kellert, Stephen, “Biophilic Design”, 2008
[viii]Hiromitsu Kobayashi, “Forest Walking Affects Autonomic Nervous Activity: A Population-Based Study”, 2018 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00278/full