How Hotels Are Integrating Biophilic Design to Soothe Guests Post-COVID

By Hâfi Martinsdóttir

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes | 1522 words

Biophilic Apple Store by Foster+Partners

As a natural result of being forced to remain indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a spike in intention to spend more time surrounded by nature. Hoteliers are preparing for this by integrating biophilic design within their hotels to soothe their guests as we begin to reemerge from the safety of our homes.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilic design (taken from Biophilia, a word of Greek origin meaning ‘a love of life or living things’) was already on the rise pre-COVID but we can expect it to flourish thanks to our new appreciation of the great outdoors. It refers to the use of natural materials, the integration of natural light and taking inspiration from the elements of nature which are in turn reflected within your hotel’s interior design, architecture and style. It is more than placing a token plant at the check-in desk, it refers to the integration of the outside world, within.

Much of today’s built environment lacks natural light, organic materials, and other nods to nature. Yes, the presence of plants can be therapeutic, but true biophilic environments are not achieved by way of add-on features, like a plant in every room. Instead, biophilic design means incorporating nature in every aspect of design. – Source: Skift 

This might mean using natural materials wherever possible and creating sanctuaries within your interior where guests can seek refuge. It’s about taking the fluid and non-uniform patterns found within nature and using those to inspire the layout of your building, the wallpaper design, the carpets, the windows, the lighting and the furnishings.

“It’s imagining how people move through the space. It’s creating areas of refuge, where guests can feel protected.”Source: Skift

When seeking inspiration from nature, designers and architects often take inspiration from the shapes and patterns found there, from the spirals of an unfurled fern, the stripes of a zebra, the symmetry of a beehive to the cracks in a desert.

Nature as therapy

Studies have shown that pre-COVID we were spending up to 93% of our time either indoors or in a car, and with the ongoing urbanisation, expansion of cities and increased reliance on technology, there is no wonder that we are suffering from our disconnect with the natural world.

It is well known that nature is the antidote, providing relief for modern ailments such as stress, fatigue and overwhelm. This is why immersing ourselves within nature, such as a walk in the woods or spending some time listening to water, makes us feel better.

“Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects.Source: Terrapin Bright Green

By incorporating natural elements within hotel interiors, we are able to reduce stress, provide an oasis of calm and ensure guests feel safe. Successful biophilic design is also proven to increase clarity of thought, productivity and creativity as well as improve quality of sleep.

“When people have access to natural design within their spaces, their heart rates come down and their cortisol levels come down,” explains David Gerson of Interface

Credit: Elle Decor Grand Hotel

Emotional Wellbeing of Guests

Bringing nature indoors has proven benefits in uplifting the emotional well-being of guests as well as engaging all five senses. According to a recent study, nearly half of our lives are spent on autopilot. To counter this, experiences that engage us mindfully and reconnect us to the present moment are beneficial to our health. This is linked to positive effects such as increased happiness, reduced stress and increased neurological activity.

“In our highly-stimulating world, our bodies go into survival mode, putting us into an automatic or autopilot state when performing actions we know and do often. Add to this the additional stress of decision-making brought on by the global pandemic, and we’re potentially putting our mental and physical health at risk without even realizing it.” – Source: Interface

Kelly Sawdon of Atelier Ace agrees; “Right now, the world is full of noise pulling our attention in multiple directions at once. Hospitality seems to be moving toward creating grounding, holistic experiences for guests, providing them with mindfulness and elements of self-care.”

We anticipate that people will increasingly want to immerse themselves within nature, enjoy the fresh air and the sunlight, particularly people entrenched within city life. Which makes this escape from urbanity all the more important for hotels located within cities and other built up environments, as Zack Sterkenberg of Ambius explains: “Biophilic design acts as an atmospheric stress-reliever for stressors such as urban overstimulation, light pollution, stressful interactions, and travel complications that can plague new arrivals.

Credit: Six N. Five

How can hotels bring nature indoors to soothe guests post-COVID

With the benefits of biophilic design within hospitality undoubtedly clear, let’s take a look at how nature and natural design can be utilised to successfully ease the anxieties of a post-COVID society.

Being greeted by the greenery of plants and the soothing sounds of trickling water can work wonders in easing anxious travellers who are keen to soak up the relief of having arrived at their destination. Hotels are choosing to immerse guests within nature through the use of natural elements such as wood, sand, rock and living plants utilised within interior settings along with natural lighting.

“Materials that are natural provide a sense of authenticity” Source: Hotel Management

As travellers are likely to be hyper sensitive to bacteria and germs, other aspects to consider might be easily accessible antibacterial wipes, hypoallergenic linen and easy to clean natural surfaces, such as copper or quartz, to ease any stress. The promotion of rest and rehabilitation, natural elements and clear hygiene protocols in place can help to satisfy a weary guest and make them feel more comfortable.

A bigger challenge for designers will be ensuring that stringent health and safety practices in place – such as check-in desks surrounded by protective plexi glass – impact the guest’s mental well-being as little as possible. As Brian Smith of Studio Tack explains, “Architects and designers will be looking at ways to make our new ‘defensive’ spaces come off as warm and embracing. The challenge will lie in balancing the need to mitigate worry while at the same time providing spaces that invite guests to relax and enjoy themselves. Designers will need to tap into the psychology and emotional well-being of the guests more so than before.”

Perhaps this is where walls of lush green plants and soothing water features can come into play. Other ways to invite nature in include providing your interior with access to natural sunlight from dawn until dusk. This further enhances guests and their emotional well-being by prompting awareness of the passage of time, aligning their internal clock and enabling effective grounding throughout the day.

The use of non-rhythmic moving stimuli can offer a sense of peace, examples include open fires, water features, leaves rustling, a faint smell of pine.

“Natural movement is generally perceived as positive, and mechanical movement as neutral or even negative. As a result, the predictable rhythmic motion of a pendulum will only hold one’s attention briefly, the invariable ticking of a clock may come to be ignored over time, and an ever-present scent may lose its mystique with long-term exposure; whereas, seasonal scented plantings or the stochastic movement of a butterfly will capture one’s attention each time for recurring physiological benefits.”Source: Human Spaces

Credit: The Nature Conservancy Offices by MKThink, San Francisco
Credit: MNDFL, New York

Drawing inspiration from nature

Patterns commonly found within nature are often used within design and architecture to create movement within a space. Natural patterns such as spirals, tessellations, fractals and symmetry, utilised alongside the Fibonacci sequence to create proportion, brings interiors and otherwise inanimate objects to life.

There are numerous ways in which you can apply these patterns within your hotel’s architecture and design, here are a few examples:

  • A vertical green wall with hanging plants
  • An indoor waterfall, a glass panel with water flowing down
  • Layout of the hotel lobby might be a spiral with a spiral staircase
  • Structural arrangements such as columns mimicking vine growth or trees
  • Using the Fibonacci sequence to instruct the layout, sizing and spacing within an interior
  • Three dimensional structures in the shape of honeycomb
  • A hallway with a live tree in the centre that can be viewed from several floors
  • A green ceiling covered in hanging plants
  • Large windows providing views of nature and sunlight to enter

Conclusion

It is inevitable that after several months of being restricted to indoor environments people will initially be concerned with density and how much interaction with strangers will be required should they stay at hotels. Anxiety will naturally increase as we begin tiptoeing out of our homes for the first time. As such, within the first few months of our transition back to the new normal, the use of biophilic design will certainly be a breath of fresh air and will likely place guests at ease when they visit properties other than their own home.

The benefits of investing in biophilic design however, are certain to last longer than our memories of this pandemic as humans naturally return to nature for refuge and emotional well-being, which is, after all, the feeling we all wish to offer our guests when they stay with us.

Unsure of your next step? Get clear on your hotel’s recovery strategy

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As COVID-19 is unlikely to disappear completely without an effective vaccine, it’s expected that we will have a W shaped recovery with lock downs repeatedly being enforced, relaxed and enforced again over time. Being prepared for this tumultuous recovery will stand you and your hotel in good stead to ride the waves to come.

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