Try this exercise; thumb through a magazine or newspaper and
look for plants. Leaves, flowers, tree trunks, and roots are
incorporated into countless corporate logos, adorn sexy models,
and frame products. What we see in ordinary advertisements is
an intuitive understanding for the human connection to nature.
Corporations have spent many resources to discover that consumers
want to wash their hair with herbs, drive in trucks made of
rock, and chew gum that taste like ice. In other words, connecting
products to nature equals sales.
University of Guelph-Humber - four-story "biowall"
covered with tropical plants
In 1984, Harvard biologist Dr. Ed Wilson named this natural
human desire, biophilia, "the love of nature." It is a feeling
that dates back millions of years, to the age when the human
brain evolved to attract us to elements and places that will
most guarantee survival and reproductive success. Even though
people may be happy in an urban high-rise, we are still most
at peace when walking in a park, looking at the ocean, or hiking
in the woods.
The study of biophilia is still in its early stages but much
excitement is on the horizon. The recently attention of green
building has inspired, researchers at Yale
University and the
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to embark the project
titled "Bringing Buildings to Life." The five-year study is
focused on quantifying the value of nature in the built environment.
This differs from existing research by institutions such as
NASA and Washington State because "much of the material that
has been generated so far has been theoretical in nature and
not directly tied to today's real estate development" says Jen
Seal, a principal at RMI.
Marrying research to commerce is the vital ingredient. Seal
states that RMI's "contribution will be to make this knowledge
more accessible and attractive to the building industry--practical,
profitable, and not just for high-end projects. Finding ways
to incorporate these concepts into the existing fabric of our
already built environment is important as well."
Armed with a Masters in Real Estate Development from MIT, Seal
is an ideal ambassador to present the case. The research is
designed to address the developer's needs.
The momentum of green building has opened more developers up
to exploring new ideas. Wooed by energy savings, greater efficiencies
in space management, and the positive publicity, green building
has become a serious business. As mentioned in my previous article,
Our Stake in the Green Build Boom, plants are not included in
the US Green
Building Council's (USGBC) certification standard called
LEED. As manufacturers of building materials and products continue
to convert to sustainable methods, green products are on the
way to become standard. Even though not every developer will
go through the paperwork to seek LEED certification, the USGBC's
recommendations are weighty. The study of biophilia is our inroad
to have plants placed in a prominent spot in the LEED certification
on the developer's priority list.
What The Market Knows Now
While the new research on biophilia will take 5-years to complete,
that doesn't mean that we can't start informing others now.
The marketplace already knows the basics. Some of the most persuading
evidence comes from our own base of familiar customers.
This past fall, Embassy
Suites and Hyatt
Hotels launched glossy advertising campaigns that show
plants and feature images that evoke the desire to be close
to nature. One could call these ads an indirect endorsement
for biophilia. The competing hotels are running full and half
page ads in top general audience publications. I first noticed
the ads in the Wall Street Journal, and they don't come cheap,
these hotels are paying top dollar to show the most sought after
business travelers pictures of plants attached to a message.
Embassy Suites advertising campaign
I interviewed marketing executives at both hotels, and while
neither used the term biophilia, adjectives to describe feeling
"It seemed natural to appeal to business travelers senses through
an ad campaign that shows we understand their plight and offer
refuge through our core features," says John Lee, vice president
of brand marketing for Embassy Suites. "The planted atrium is
a core attribute to our brand."
The Embassy Suites ad shows a man looking out the window of
a crammed office while recalling the spaciousness atrium lobby
with live plants and a soothing brook. The man and the office
are in black and white and the atrium jumps off the page in
When asked, if he had ever considered advertising that the plants
clean the air, Mr. Lee said "its a possibility." He went on
to say that the atriums appeal to both the emotional and rational,
noting the fact that one can access high speed Internet in the
hotel's atrium. Mr. Lee quickly reiterated that the intent of
the atrium image is to capture the "feeling of an oasis" after
spending a day in an airport or a meeting room.
Johanna Vetter, director of advertising for Hyatt Hotels Corporation
said that "Hyatt does all it can to incorporate the natural
setting into its hotel design." She explains that Hyatt, particularly
its resort properties are designed so "you can truly experience
nature of that destination so that at each resort is unique
and not cookie cutter."
The full-page ad shows an attractive woman in the garden lagoon
of the Hyatt's Regency Kauai property. The photography is crisp
and the green foliage is stunning.
It's interesting that both executives considered their natural
elements and plantings to be differentiators. To be called a
differentiator is a big compliment, especially considering that
plants are often listed as an optional accessory-- if listed
at all. In other words, plants and the appearance of nature
contribute to the property's competitiveness in the marketplace.
The hotels have embraced what we already intuitively know; humans
are attracted to nature and value it.
Pushing the Envelope
Throughout the world there are new buildings that are on the
forefront of biophilic inspired design. It is worthwhile bring
these unusual projects to the attention of building owners and
tenants in your market. Such knowledge can add an interest and
delight to a conversation, plus validate the importance of plants
in current designs.
Among the recent projects that have biophilic attributes is
of Guelph-Humber Building in Ontario, Canada. Completed
in May of 2004, the most striking feature of the building is
a four-story "biowall" covered with tropical plants. The 30'Wx55'H
wall is strategically placed under a skylight and designed so
the dense plant life is visible from nearly every floor, public
space and corridor in the building.
In fact, the planted biowall is a prototype for a new filtration
system. It acts as an indoor air purifier, pulling air through
the wall and into the mechanical air ducts. According to the
University, the biowall could supply all of the building's fresh
air intake needs. Irrigated by a vertical hydroponic system,
it naturally cools the building in the summer and humidifies
in the winter.
Obviously, the biowall is a living experiment and would be most
likely out of the comfort zone of a normal developer. However,
just the fact that the biowall was built is an encouraging sign
for the future of biophilic-inspired design. With or without
the filtration system, planting on the wall is one space saving
technique that provides the beauty of an atrium without sacrificing
square footage. The success of this facility could pave the
way for an entirely new design specialty -- "verticalscapes."
Another recent development is Sanitas
Corporation's headquarters, in Madrid, Spain. The heath
insurer sought to design a building that represented the companies
health centered goals-satisfying physical, social, and environmental
requirements. To achieve their vision, Sanitas held a design
competition for the project.
Designed by by Ortiz Leon Architects, the result is a "glowing
gem" among a flood of conventional sprawling office parks on
the outskirts of Madrid. The twin oval shaped buildings have
plants throughout the interiors and are surrounded by gardens
planted with native plants, a slate rock fountain trickles water
leading a pathway to the building entrance.
Seal cites the Sanitas Corporation headquarters as a primary
example of biophilic design. Last November, in her presentation
to an audience of 400 at the GreenBuild conference in Portland
Oregon, Seal said that Sanitas intended the building have natural
elements from the beginning. It was a commitment that came from
the corporate leadership.
If Madison Avenue is splashing plants all over their ads and
if a European health insurer makes natural elements a mandate
for their new headquarters, we're more than half way there.
The study of biophilia is bound to improve awareness and provide
proof that so many decisions are dependent on.
Shane Pliska's column appears bi-monthly in Interiorscape
Magazine. He is the Business Development Manager of Planterra
Corporation, West Bloomfield, Michigan. www.planterra.com.
|Reading on Biophilia
Biophilia, by E.O. Wilson, Harvard University Press
The Biophilia Hypothesis, by S.R. Kellert and E.O.
Wilson, Island Press
Biomimicry, J. Benyus, by Wm. Morrow & Co.
Greening the Building and the Bottom Line, available
as a PDF download at www.rmi.org