The Biophilic Classroom
In 2018, an environmental impact study of Putney High School’s campus revealed the benefits of the existing mature, natural landscape, and made recommendations to diversify the use of nature through the introduction of additional green infrastructure to support health and wellbeing.
As part of their ‘Breathe’ Campaign, Putney High School subsequently commissioned a nine-month study into the impact of biophilic design within three sixth form classrooms. Biophilic design is the increase in occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, space and place conditions.
‘Nature in space’ was introduced in the form of plants, and a ‘natural analogue’ in the form of a woodlands photo mural. The classrooms were analysed in comparison with a third un-changed classroom. Occupant comfort of the classrooms was monitored, and occupant surveys were undertaken to understand perception of the classroom design, occupant attention, comfort, health, attention, and cognitive and emotional wellbeing.
The study showed that during the Winter Term the classroom with plants provided improved comfort by 10%, and humidity improved 8% above the ‘natural analogue classroom’. In the Spring Term, the ventilation system was re-set to act when CO2 reached 750ppm as prior research shows that CO2 levels affect decision-making when as low as 600ppm. Subsequent surveys found a significant improvement in consistency of comfort and ‘freshness’ of the classrooms.
The occupant survey found that 65% of students were content and 78% felt healthier. 68% of students liked the wall mural, and 62% liked having plants in the classroom. The surveys revealed the use of plants had a closer association with occupant cognitive wellbeing, while the mural of nature was the preferred biophilic intervention, with a stronger relationship with emotional wellbeing.
Our built environment is a multi-sensory experience, stimulated by people, the architectural atmosphere of light and space, the quality of indoor environments, learning and social interactions. Our creativity and productivity, arising from this experience, are dependent on good health and well-being. The findings of the study have shown that the subtle reintroduction of nature can enhance the quality of learning environments to benefit health, productivity, cognitive and emotional wellbeing.
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