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Understanding Biophilia

By Andréa de Paiva

When we are tired and decide to take a few days off to relax somewhere, where do we go? Generally, to get away urban chaos and stress, people opt to go to the beach or to the countryside… But why?

Autumn tree
Source: CCO Creative Commons

Our brain was programmed to live in nature [1]. The contact with it brings various benefits to our health. But, if we spend most of our lives in cities, why is our brain still programmed that way?

When the Homo Sapiens appeared over 100 thousand years ago, there wasn’t yet groups that lived in villages nor cities. Only during the Neolithic revolution, which happened approximately 12 thousand years ago, did groups stop nomadism and started to get organized due to the benefits of agriculture. So the homo sapiens spent about 90 thousand years living completely inserted into nature before finally starting to build more stable settlements that evolved into villages and cities. From that we can conclude that life in urban centers is still very recent and our brain still hasn’t adapted to it [2].

Psychologists and neuroscientists have already been researching for some years what benefits can come from the contact with nature. And, on the other hand, which problems come from a deprivation of such contact, like what happens nowadays in major urban centers, in which some of the most utilized spaces of leisure are enclosed shopping malls, movie theaters or even our own living room [3].

Could some of the diseases of modernity such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder be afflicting so many people due to the absence of contact with nature in their lives? Is the use of substances like methylphenidate (Ritalin), fluoxetine (Prozac) and Alprazolam (Xanax) the best way to treat these problems? What is the role of architects and urbanists in of all this?

There is a great relation between NeuroArchitecture and Biophilia and it doesn’t end in what has been discussed here. Soon we will continue to discuss this subject with is fundamental to the planning of spaces! For those who wish to read more about it, here’s a link to an article I’ve written about biophilia and urbanism (in Portuguese).

If you want to read more about biophilia, take a look at these articles:

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[1] WILSON, E. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07442-4.

[2] WILSON, E., KELLERT, S. (1995). "The Biophilia Hypothesis". Nova York: Shearwater Press.

[3] KELLERT, S., HEERWAGEN, J., MADOR M. (2008). "Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life". Nova York: Wiley.

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