Learning from Nature: Biophilic Educational Spaces

Elly Deakin Biophilic design, Community, Education, Schools

Our built environment features a huge range of educational buildings, of all different scales and capacities: from small nurseries through to vast schools and university campuses – many of which resemble self-contained villages. However, what these buildings all have in common is that staff members and students inhabit them on a daily basis in order to teach and learn.

Research has proven that our attention capacity (essential for our cognitive functioning) is restored when we come into contact with nature. Studies have demonstrated that Biophilic educational spaces have the ability to improve performance and the well-being of both staff members and students.

Due to urbanisation, the amount of green space within educational settings is increasingly reducing. It is therefore important that as architects and interior designers, we learn how to best utilise Biophilic design principles in order to reintroduce nature to our educational buildings and spaces.

Here are some key recommendations…

Increase views onto nature:

Optimise views onto nature by enlarging windows and ensuring they are placed at appropriate heights for both students and staff. Ensuring greenery is in the periphery vision of occupants has been proved to reduce heart rate and stress levels and boost productivity. Such views can also strengthen a human connection with nature and serve as a protective environment, particularly for children.

Increase natural light:

Make use of windows, skylights and reflective surfaces in order to optimise exposure of natural daylight. This creates an energising environment, helping to increase student’s concentration, learning speed and performance levels.

Indoor plants and living walls:

Greenery not only creates visual interest within a working environment but can also improve air quality and oxygen levels, boosting the concentration levels of staff and students. Indoor greenery also acts as an effective sound absorber, helping to control acoustics within a classroom.

Natural elements and references to nature:

Incorporate natural elements like wooden furniture, as well as making use of existing features like exposed timber flooring and brickwork. These features stimulate the senses, which help to energise both staff and students and reduce stress levels. In addition to tactile natural elements, 2D imagery can be incorporated to aid psychological recuperation.

Recuperative spaces:  

Create “safe” zones within the building for students and staff to retreat to. By including features such as low lighting, muted colours and tones, soft furniture and pleasant views we can aid relaxation and concentration. Restorative spaces that are primarily used for time away from studies can enhance productivity.

What are the economic benefits?

-Naturally lit spaces reduce energy consumption and costs.

-Improved well-being of staff reduces absenteeism and improves morale in the workplace, which can reduce staff turnover and increase productivity.

Have you had a positive teaching or learning experience in the past? What principles do you feel would boost your concentration and productivity?


St Mary’s Infant School – Jessop and Cook Architects

This school incorporates many Biophilic Design principles: natural materials used in the structure as well as furniture, sky lights that allow natural light to flood the interior space, recuperative spaces, many views out to nature and splashes of uplifting colours such as green, red, yellow blue (all indicative of nature).