U of M biophilia design exhibit looks at impact on personal and community health

A University of Minnesota Design School exhibit is looking at how the way you decorate your home and your neighborhood might help keep you healthy.

Oxygen flows easily, and blood pressure seems to drop when you walk into Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota campus after design school graduate students brought a change of seasons with landscaping.

"We tried to create clusters that made you feel like kind of garden is creeping in all around," said John Lasson, a landscape architect who recently completed a Master’s degree at the university.

Lasson helped build the Biophilia + Well-being + Design exhibit with associate professor Richard Graves and graduate students Nathan Davies, Christopher Leberecht, Jennifer Preuss and Rebecca Krinke.  

They livened up the hall and turned it into a place where students want to read or do Zoom calls. The designers say being in nature brings calm to most people.

Doctors say biophilic designs — adding the right kind of plant life in your home or community — can keep people healthier. 

"The importance of nature in built designs extends way beyond just the way it makes us feel," said Dr. Matthew Trowbridge, a professor at the University of Virginia Medical School and chief medical officer at the International WELL Building Institute. "Even just literal things like shading from trees and so forth has a huge impact on things like a heat island effect."

A 2020 data study found Minneapolis neighborhoods with less than 15% tree coverage, like the Phillips neighborhood and Near North, can have temperatures in the summer more than 10 degrees higher than neighborhoods with more trees.

Research in the biophilic design field has shown promise, but it’s just getting started.

The exhibit highlights some award-winning projects at places like homes, hospitals, academic buildings and airports.

"They’re at a lot of different scales, a lot of different climates, different cultures, and you can see how you can incorporate that into your design work," said Professor Richard Graves, who’s also research director at the Center for Sustainable Building Research.

So the idea is to encourage architecture, landscape, and design students to find effective ways to expand on what they see and feel here.

The exhibit at the University of Minnesota is open through April 21.

After that, the designers plan to spread the bigger plants and the health benefits all around campus.