Dr. Stephen Kellert's scholarship established the architectural value of biophilic design.
Stephen R. Kellert, the eminent social ecologist and senior research scholar at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, who paved the way for a generation of environmental and urban design professionals, passed away on November 27th of multiple myeloma at age 73.
In his four decades as a professor, author, nature advocate and avid conservationist, Dr. Kellert's thought-provoking papers, essays, and books gave rise to biophilic design, a subject he referred to as the architecture of life.
In 1993, his milestone collaboration with Edward O. Wilson lead to their first book, The Biophilia Hypothesis, which gave Wilson's original idea that humankind shared an inherent bond with nature, a scientific premise.
This book followed up on Dr. Wilson's earlier book, Biophilia, which was the first to put forth the notion that humankind sought out living systems.
Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (2008).
Unlike Wilson's original book, which was a memoir of his discoveries in far flung natural environments as an eminent entomologist, the collaboration with Kellert gave a broader scientific foundation to his intuitive observation.
Fifteen years later, Dr. Kellert co-edited a seminal academic book, Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (2008), earning that year's American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Book of the Year Award in Architecture and Urban Planning.
As a stellar compendium of the most compelling research about the impact of nature's myriad attributes in the built environment, the book became an instant classic, illuminating the way for researchers and designers to this very day. Throughout his career, Dr. Kellert was a strong advocate of a holistic approach to design. He was not in favor of building design by following a checklist.
He was a critic of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED system where designers achieve either Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification by following a checklist. Kellert, the consummate advocate of a holistic approach to design, argued in a 2014 New York Times interview that "good design has an atomic quality. When things are organized in a coherent and integrated way you get these emergent properties so the whole is better than the sum of its parts."
Dr. Kellert is survived by his loving wife Cilla, his two daughters Emily and Libby, his son-in-law Arthur, and his grandchildren, Ellanora, Simone, Aven, and Henry.
A memorial service will be held in early January 2017 at Kroon Hall of Yale, the biophilic building he originally inspired.
Visual context plays a huge role in shaping spatial perception.
In a noteworthy neuroscience experiment in the U.K., researchers caught sight of a fascinating phenomenon. Until then, scientists assumed the wave of electrical activity in the brain (that signals visual processing is taking place) would remain constant when the visual stimuli on display remained static.
However, the experiment revealed that when the context in which the visual content was presented changed, the electrical brainwave activity across a variety of cortical regions increased, despite the fact that the visual stimuli remained unchanged.
In other words, by merely changing the viewer's expectations of what they should be looking at (subjects were looking at an assortment of bottles where the only change made was the question posed about the image), researchers were able to alter a person's cognitive interpretation of visual input.
With this neural evidence at hand, scientists had finally peered into the brain's magic box of perception and caught a glimpse of how contextual or structural cues influence how we interpret sensory stimuli, which in turn builds our very real sense of place.
The question is by no means a rhetorical one nor is it the purview of self-styled futurists or VR developers. The question is central to architects, designers, facility planners and more so to environmental design researchers striving to uncover the attributes of interior design that have the greatest impact on health, productivity, and wellbeing.
Along this line of inquiry, Real vs Simulated Nature research has thus far ignored contextual cues when setting out to compare the restorative value of genuine views to nature versus simulated ones.
To learn more about the implications of architectural context, see our latest contribution in this two-piece article, Simulated Nature Research Gets Real.
CBS's Pure Genius featured a wall-size high-tech monitor that dominated the space in patient rooms.
This fall, CBS debuted a new medical drama that envisioned the future of healthcare. However, viewers quickly found out that state-of-the-art technology was more than a major theme—it was the show. Pure Genius premiered on October 27th and less than 4 weeks later, on November 21st, CBS announced no more episodes were forthcoming.
With an average production cost of about $4 million dollars per episode, the show's high-tech premise turned out to be pure folly; its brief run over before Thanksgiving.
In the parallel universe of real healthcare, construction costs for a new imaging suite, including all the equipment to operate it, also runs about $4 million dollars.
However, unlike broadcast studios that shed millions in trial balloons, hospitals cannot afford to misjudge how high-tech interfaces with the patient environment.
From the healthcare design looking glass, Pure Genius failed to grasp the environment of healing. Had the show's producers taken a look at today's most forward-thinking healthcare design, they would have noted that patient wellness is predicated on the notion that technology, in the environment of care, should be transparent—unseen.
CBS's futuristic healthcare drama gambled on digital imagery without any environmental context.
Instead, the show made technology the focal point in the patient environment. The main characters even had a name for the technology. They called it—The Wall.
"Its mission control for every patient—CT scans, MRI, anything you need to know or the patient wants to know—is available any time," says James Bell, the hospital founder. "And, when it's not medical, the patient gets to choose where they want to be… rising over the moon," he says as a floor-to-ceiling image of Earth appears on the wall in front of the patient's bed.
"Studies show that patients sleep better, they have better recoveries when they feel more control over their environment," Bell impresses upon a new doctor.
However, lost in the pitch for providing a sense of environmental control through gigantic interactive monitors is why such devices are necessary in the first place.
The reason is simple and revealing.
Modern hospitals feature large areas of isolated interiors where sophisticated equipment is housed in what can only be described as high-tech utility closets. These spaces have lost the essential attribute found in all genuine architecture, which is to provide a restorative sense of place.
The current emphasis on environmental control and the proliferation of interactive devices to elicit positive distraction stem from a fundamental flaw in the way we design medical spaces.
Enclosed interiors are sensory deprivation chambers where our attention has no place to go but to converge on our worries and anxieties.
There's nowhere to look and establish a visual anchor point. In a very real sense, medical interiors are dead spaces. Hence, providing the option for patients to change the channel and deliver a measure of control appears to make sense.
But in providing technologies of distraction we are merely compensating for the lack of imagination in our healthcare design.
What we really need is to create a clinical environment that mimics the profound biophilic engagement that natural environments so effortlessly provide.
Sky Factory's virtual aquarium footage is captured, composed and framed to facilitate the illusion of depth.
After all, nature provides the most sensory rich environment known to man. Nature's attributes are responsible for the "neurological complexity" that enthralls our attention while maintaining a relaxed physiology.
Facility planners and healthcare architects understand that a visual connection to nature is the best healer.
And when it is not possible to bring a genuine view to nature into the patient environment, designing illusions of nature—virtual skylights and windows—that convey a genuine spatial experience, are an elegant, research-verified solution.
When we apply technology in a transparent and fluid manner, it becomes a useful conduit to establish an environment that contributes to patient wellness.
Had the creative team behind Pure Genius understood this, perhaps their story would have been less about erecting a wall of technology, and more about using visual technologies to frame a new architecture of life; what we know as biophilic design.