Close your eyes and picture your happy place. Contemplate how your body and your state of mind might feel there: calm, relaxed, peaceful, energized? Is there a breeze, or a particular scent you may experience in this setting? Imagine all of your senses engaged, and fully absorb yourself in the context of this place. Most people would likely describe themselves somewhere in nature: at a beach, in a forest, on a body of water, or perhaps in their own backyard. Few, if any, would be in a workplace, classroom, or hospital setting.
In fact, a 2011 study of more than one million people found that people are happier in nature than any urban environment. This got me thinking about why our built environment so often fails to meet our standards of where we are happiest. My early interest in sustainable design showed me the importance of paying attention to the materials we use and the strategies we employ to harness nature through, for example, solar panels or rainwater harvesting. But none of these strategies spoke to bringing out the spirit of buildings and making them feel more comfortable for people. It was my involvement with the Living Building Challenge that introduced me to biophilia and biophilic design, and it has since become the foundation of my practice. It seemed as though we, as designers, had lost sight of what makes an environment joyful and inspiring. Buildings don’t do that—nature does that.