"Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction" ~ E.O Wilson
By 2045, the number of people living in cities will increase by 1.5 times to 6 billion, adding 2 billion more urban residents. Okay, such a trend may provide more opportunities to those that previously lived in more remote locations. Fair. Here is the catch. Cities also play an important role in tackling climate change, as they consume close to two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions (World Bank, 2016). Now, before you stop reading in anticipation that this is just another ‘doom and gloom’, apocalyptic monologue, please stay with me.
Learning is the never-ending journey of discovery and an ability which we develop during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy (University of Washington, 2013). The skill of learning has been the constant across time from when we first put body to Earth. Our first range of interactions is of a natural exchange so the idea of us becoming ‘urbanite(s)’ is for most, well certainly for me, unnatural.
Urbanisation is an incredible feat of collective human intelligence, I accept that, but it is the antithesis of ‘the natural’, it is made or caused by humankind. As a result it has become easy for us to distance ourselves from the natural elements that make up our planet, our natural interactions which we first encountered upon entering this world. It is this separation which fuels the statistics aforementioned regarding global greenhouse emission.
This is a concern but what concerns me more is the absentmindedness of the masses for how we were born, how we learnt or learn, and what we are, including our primary role.
We are: Nature. (Learning) Experience. Intelligence.
Biophilia is a term I have used before and certainly underlies all of my work. Biophilia was first introduced by EO Wilson, an American biologist, and refers to the notion that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems (Wilson, 1984). Biophilic design is not too dissimilar as it is a sustainable design strategy in architecture that incorporates reconnecting people with the natural environment, as you can see below.
In order to get to the place where we are now, including the slow but steady implementation of biophilic design strategies, we have, arguably, had to embrace our uniqueness amongst other mammalians and harness our capacity for (human) intelligence. This improvement to urban ecosystems around the world gives me hope and makes me smile, just as psychologist Rachel Kaplan, EO Wilson and many others have proven such a presence should. Yet, why aren’t we seeing this in education if it was education which gave us the knowledge to implement such designs?
International educational consultant, Claire Warden, speaks about the art of being with nature inside, outside and beyond (2010). Our inside spaces (in educational settings) should mirror what we find both in the outside and in the beyond; the wild spaces. It should be a space which enhances positive affect of subjective well-being. A place that encourages and facilitates a young persons (and older) biophilia; love of life/living systems (Fromm, 1964). A place that has an abundance of opportunity for authentic natural experiences.
In education we have this freedom to adapt because our 'clients' are individuals with growth mindsets. Our workplace crosses over into a variety of different spaces, a variety of different landscapes. A place of learning itself is an ecosystem but if we are to remove all or most of its natural elements then it no longer is an ecosystem but just...a system.
Ideas & suggestions
- Modify your daily 'program' to accomodate for more outside time
- Design a benefit risk assessment to accomodate for regular outings to nearby naturescapes
- Integrate facets of the natural world into all your learning experiences
- Incorporate meditative practices using natural world stimulus routinely
- Discard if all plastic and unnatural provocations, furniture and equipment
- Integrate biophilic design patterning to support childrens biophilia, such as vertical wall gardens, breathing walls, etc.
- Ensure playscapes reflect natural environments and encourages users to be challenged, take measurable risks and ask questions. Your space should encourage visitors from outside your 'four walls' i.e. bird life, reptiles, insects, etc
Clay RA. (2001). ‘Green is good for you: Psychologists' research explains the mental and physical restoration we get from nature--and has important implications for how we build our homes, work environments and cities’. American Psychological Association, [Online]. 32, no.4, 40.
Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood.aspx
Fromm E. (1964). The Heart of Man. Harper & Row.
Londonist. (2015). Green Wall to Tackle Air Pollution at Edgware Road Station. [ONLINE]
Available at: http://londonist.com/2011/11/green-wall-to-tackle-air-pollution-at-edgware-road-station
The World Bank. (2016). Overview. [ONLINE]
Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/overview
University of Washington. 2013. While in womb, babies begin learning language from their mothers. [ONLINE]
Available at: http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/01/02/while-in-womb-babies-begin-learning-language-from-their-mothers/
Warden C. (2010). Nature Kindergartens. UK: Mindstretchers.
Wilson EO. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
 The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth.