In conversation with Oliver Heath, BBC designer and star who uses biophilic design to make people happier and more serene

Oliver Heath is a star of BBC and Channel 4. He became famous after participating in programs such as DIY SOS and Changing Room, with projects of biophilic design. To make them much more beautiful of course. But also to make people happier. Because this is the interest of biophilic design: the well-being of people. How human beings feel inside a space. And how to make them feel better by integrating natural elements into architecture

Oliver Heath is a popularizer (there is a whole multilevel course on his site) and author by Design a Healthy Home, a handbook for anyone who wants some practical advice to have a more biophilic home. And in fact talking to him really makes you want to turn your living room into a greenhouse. Not to immerse yourself in a natural state as coveted as it is unrealistic but for an honest need, net of the superstructures. A basic, elementary need: in contact with nature you feel good. Even just for the petunia we keep on the work table.

Oliver Heath, can you tell us what biophilic design is?

Biophilic design is a design strategy that takes into account the spontaneous tendency of human beings to feel good in the midst of nature. It's not hard to imagine why: Our primitive brain is made to function best when it's in a certain type of habitat. Plants, trees, water and a comfortable temperature are exactly the right ingredients to satisfy the elementary needs of life. And in these conditions we relax, produce fewer stress hormones and have energy to spend on thinking and creativity.

Is there scientific evidence of biophilic design theories?

It is a young discipline, which however has on its side a spontaneous practice that has lasted for millennia. The Babylonian Hanging Gardens are probably one of the first biophilic architectures that were built. There are many neuroscientific studies that explore the importance of the relationship with nature. We have spontaneous and obvious physical and emotional reactions. With a population of 7 billion concentrated mainly in metropolises, it is necessary to start from this very realistic, honest basis and to design environments suitable for human life.

What triggered your interest in biophilic design?

It seems to me that architecture and design are used above all to assert status. Wealth, power, skills... Instead what interests me above all is to understand how it feels inside a space, or when using an object. What are our emotions? I understood that it is the constant contact with nature or with the memory of nature that makes us feel really good.

What are the main tools of biophilic design and how are they best used?

Direct elements are used, such as plants, water, sounds. And indirect, like natural materials, those colors that we define as neutral but which are actually typical of our original habitat, and space management that takes into account the need for a wide and circular view. These tricks are useful everywhere. But they are even more so in environments where spontaneous processes such as learning or healing take place. A biophilic school or hospital works better, in human terms. The rest is theory.

A concrete example of how biophilic design works?

A detrimental theme today is stress . In the workplace, in schools, in public spaces. We know well, because of this we have scientific evidence if the empirical ones were not enough, that contact with nature relieves stress. Nature, in a context designed and therefore focused on human parameters, is good for you. It slows the heartbeat, induces the production of compensatory hormones that support a feeling of interconnectedness and collaboration.

In your opinion, is it important to have scientific proof of the validity of biophilic design?

Certainly yes, but in general people tend to trust experts more than themselves. This is a problem. Biophilic design brings the gaze back to the centrality of the person. How do i feel? How am i doing? This is the competence to be based on.