Bringing nature into the built environment
Alain de Botton is a modern-day philosopher with a knack for revealing extraordinary truths often concealed by their ordinariness. One of these is that a significant source of our happiness and misery is as a result of the environment we’re surrounded by. Dreary surroundings can feel soul-shattering; while beautiful, vital settings are “an eloquent reminder of our full potential.” De Botton wrote an entire book - The Happiness of Architecture - on the subject, contending that how we live heavily influences who we can be.
This insight is very much at the heart of the Frasers Property approach to design and sustainability. One of our core beliefs is that life’s best experiences are created by people connecting in memorable places. This means transcending the sterility and sameness of the average cookie-cutter housing estate or apartment development, and instead designing healthy, vibrant, mixed-use communities that foster enjoyment, togetherness and - dare we say - happiness, for the people that live, work and shop there.
One of the ways we do this is through what’s known as ‘biophilic design’. It sounds very academic, we know, but put simply, biophilic design brings nature into the built environment. Indoor and outdoor landscaping, non-toxic materials, natural patterns and processes, light and space, recuperative zones, sensory variability and a community connection to nature are all elements of the approach. It works because humans are hardwired with an affinity for nature, and when we have access to it there’s an observably positive effect on mood and wellbeing.
Thankfully, in today’s modern residential design there’s a good deal of thought that’s gone into the use of natural materials and creation of seamless indoor/outdoor enjoyment. Recycled timbers and stone materials, internal courtyards and garden atriums, water features, window-to-wall ratios, and orientation to capture light and ventilation are all now fairly common. But what about biophilic principles in other parts of your neighbourhood?
At the new retail centre at Melbourne’s Burwood Brickworks for example, there are a number of measures in place that will set the standard for mixed-use amenity for years to come. 20% of the centre will also be given over to urban agriculture, including a 2,000m2 rooftop urban farm and a 650m2 greenhouse that will grow seasonal produce to be used in the rooftop restaurant. An entire facade will be covered in citrus- growing potted plants, and an ‘eat street’ dining precinct will open out onto an urban plaza, creating in effect a second, outdoor ‘dining room’ for local residents.
You’ll also find a natural continuity between residential and open space areas at Sydney’s Ed.Square. Architecturally designed townhouses and apartments open up onto landscaped parks and gardens offering tranquil views and places to meet and socialise with neighbours. And at the award-winning Central Park in Chippendale, vertical gardens scale the facades of the apartment buildings, creating one of the most striking vistas in the city, as well as helping to keep apartments cool and freshly ventilated.
Lastly, the great advantage of design-thinking that merges indoor and outdoor space, is that it creates a sense of cohesiveness across a neighbourhood. In the old days, the house would be over here, and the shopping mall would be over there and never the twain would meet - at least in aesthetic or architectural terms. With biophilic principles, this can change. By designing buildings - whether they be residential, retail, or civic - to make the most of natural materials and light, to open up to and share viewlines with parks, gardens, urban plazas, and water features, new communities can be given the best chance to foster health, wellbeing and happiness among local residents.