Week 09: Topiary Therapy

Recently I stumbled upon an article by Dr. Mark Rowe, an author and speaker on Wellness and Happiness. He was describing a beautiful new Greenway in Ireland, and expanded on the importance of “Green Exercise” and “Forest Bathing.”

At the end of a long work day, many of us lace up our sneakers and hit the treadmill or indoor gym. We could be getting so much more out of our exercise if we stepped outdoors to sweat.

So what on earth is Forest Bathing?? Japan coined the term Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, in 1982 as part of a national public health program. This concept is so simple and yet so underrated. In order to practice forest bathing, all you need to do is wander along forest trails and surround yourself with nature.

This practice has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Doctor Rowe goes as far as to encourage practices such as these over prescription medication and modern medicine.

Case Study: A Forest Bath Retreat

Location: Nagano, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Architects: Kyoko Ikuta Architecture Laboratory

Japanese architecture is often beautifully simple, and understated. It is often this way so that the built environment does not compete or take away from the surrounding environment.

This Summer home by Kyoko Ikuta Architecture Laboratory acts as a canvas for the surrounding layers of woods to “paint” on. The triangular roof allows the residents to gaze up into the forest canopy, and windows are placed to capture the ever changing light and shadows from above. The clients for this project wanted a home where they could literally do nothing…and just be with the trees all day. I wish I had that level of patience.

Images courtesy of ArchDaily 

Week 08: Human-Nature-Building Connection

In our Advanced Design Research course, we read about the 14 concepts of Biophilic design in a paper by Terrapin Bright Green. Strategic environmental consultant for Terrapin Bright Green, Catie Ryan, served in an item writing group for the WELL Building Standard and noted many connections between the standard’s imperatives and Biophilic design.

Although Biophilia is specifically called out in the “Mind” concept of WELL, there is much overlap between the human-nature connection and other items listed for wellness:

Image courtesy of Terrapin Bright Green

The WELL Building Standard encourages Biophilic design in two approaches:

  1. Qualitative: “the thoughtful incorporation of environmental elements, lighting and space planning at each design stage of the project”
  2. Quantitative: number of connections to the outdoors (you can never have too many…right?)

Case Study: A Positive Bend in the River

Federal Center South, Building 1202 , Seattle Washington
Firm: ZGF Architects

The massive 209000 square foot campus for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was designed to redevelop a brownfield site and previous warehouse in Seattle. The shape of the building was inspired by the “oxbow” formations in the adjacent  Duwamish Waterway (thoughtful incorporation of environmental elements!). The U-shape provides energy-performance benefits and creates a collaborative environment.

Inhabitants not only get access to plenty of natural light and views to the outdoors, but also have a visual connection to nature in the “commons” interior landscape.

Image result for Federal Center South, Building 1202

Images Courtesy of ArchDailey

Week 07: Here Comes the Sun

This week I returned from a week basking in the Caribbean sunshine in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Upon arriving in paradise, my mood was immediately lifted. I took walks in the sunshine and was thrilled to see tan lines and freckles pop up for the first time in years.

So I of course got to thinking…what IS it about the sun that makes us so profoundly HAPPY?

The visible part of the sun’s light spectrum communicates with the brain via the eye, affecting melatonin and serotonin rhythms. When we shelter ourselves from the sun, or even use too much sunblock, we put ourselves at risk of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Serotonin levels increase when you’re exposed to bright light, a major reason why moods tend to be more elevated during the summer.

Scientists now say sunlight exposure in the Summer can affect your mood months later in the Winter!

We are only human, we are only animals:

Sunshine and the Spring/Summer months are linked to mating seasons. Conception peaks in Finland in the summer months, when the sun shines for up to 20 hours a day compared to the darker winter months.

Humans and most mammals rely on the sun for sleep/awake cycles. A lack of healthy daylight can throw off our circadian rhythms.

So what does all of this mean for DESIGN?

Case Study: Sunlight in the City

Project: Arthaland Century Pacific Tower
Firm: SOM

Image courtesy of Rappler

Skyscrapers and city skylines do not have to mean less access to natural light. SOM designed this new tower in Bonifacio Global City, Philippines to maximize sunlight and perform efficiently. Full height windows are high-performing insulated glazing units with a low-e coating and frit pattern in order to reduce energy demands on the interior. The design provides optimal solar control, allowing for additional shading to the south and west.

Week 06: Innovation is Happening Outside Our Windows


“We are part of a brilliant planet, and we are surrounded by genius”

-Janine Benyus

Climate change, poverty, unpredictable weather, antibiotic-resistant strains of disease, and the increasing number of cancer cases worldwide are not going to be addressed by sticking to the status quo.

Nature is constantly adapting and reinventing itself to face new problems and survive…so why do we keep relying on fossil fuels and the status quo to power our lifestyles?

Case Study: A Building Powered by Algae

Project: Process Zero: Retrofit Resolution for Federal Building in Downtown LA
Firm: HOK

Image Courtesy of HOK

HOK’s design team took a literal approach to the concept of a “Living Building” when designing this Net Zero retrofit plan. The facade uses energy-producing microalgae to generate 9 percent of the renovated federal building’s power supply. Algae absorbs the sun’s radiation in order to produce lipids for on-site fuel generation. The algal modules also act as shading for the interior office spaces.

HOK has many projects that follow this biomimetic approach. The teams look to Biomimicry icons such as Janine Benyus for inspiration and guidance when applying the concepts.

In 2008, Janine Benyus and Biomimicry 3.8, a bio-inspired innovation company, teamed up to develop a new planning and design methodology called Fully Integrated Thinking. The (FIT™) tool has a biomimetic approach and draws from nature’s proven design solutions.

Here is an awesome TED talk by Benyus