Exploring the human-nature connection

Deeply encoded in each of us through evolution, biophilia is the instinctive bond humans feel with other living systems. People generally respond positively to natural aspects of the environment such as foliage, flowers, moving water, organic forms and sunlight. Fostering visual connections to nature in the built environment benefits our physical, emotional and cognitive well-being and is critically important for artists and designers to consider in our increasingly urbanized world.

Biodesign Makerspace

Can a learning space activate the human-nature connection and encourage students to consider the natural world and their place in it? The Biodesign Makerspace was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to test the impacts of biophilic design in an educational setting and to provide a STEAM focused makerspace for working with nature's technologies. The space brings patterns of nature into the built environment in ways expected to increase concentration, focus and productivity, as well as encourage a sense of well-being and a connection to the local ecosystem. Designed by RISD students in a Spring 2018 Interior Architecture studio, it was built by a cohort of RISD students over the summer of 2018.

The Biodesign Makerspace is available for class lectures as well as special projects involving faculty and/or students upon approval from the Nature Lab staff. Visit the official Biodesign Makerspace website here.

Biophilic Design: Biophilia, Living Systems, and the Human-Nature Connection

Building on discussions of sustainability and problem solving from nature (biomimicry), this course promoted a holistic view of spatial design grounded in biology and the natural world. The course reviewed research on the psychological and health benefits of connecting with nature; historical and contemporary applications of biophilic design principles; as well as the potential impact of bringing this practice into a mainstream dialog. For the final project, students considered biophilic design in association with green technologies and applications of living media in the built environment to develop a design strategy that made room 11 of the Nature Lab a more nature-rich environment.

This course was co-taught in Spring 2016 by Former Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom and current Nature Lab Interim Director Jennifer Bissonnette.


Given that busy family schedules, parental fears and other factors of contemporary life often preclude urban children from getting much exposure to nature, Industrial Design grad alum Christina Kazakia resolved to do something to encourage more outdoor time. Months of research, field study and prototyping led her to design Stick-lets™ — weather-resistant, safe and reusable silicone joints that enable kids to connect random sticks of all sizes to build their own forts, tunnels and imaginary kingdoms using parts found in nature.

Green Wall

Living plants integrated with the interior walls of building are not only beautiful but also provide such natural benefits as moderating humidity, improving air quality, promoting energy savings and generally enhancing the well-being of people who live or work in these spaces. Although this rapidly emerging technology has garnered considerable interest, green walls have been slow to be widely implemented in the US. To support further research into the potential of these natural solutions, the Nature Lab installed a living wall that enables students to explore the principles of vertical gardens and related technologies such as green roof systems.

Designing with Nature Course

During wintersession 2018, former Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom and current Nature Lab Interim Director Jen Bissonnette taught "Designing with Nature," an interdisciplinary studio where students explored designs and concept iterations for our biodesign maker space. Students examined the flow of the space, the functions and types of furniture that could be custom-made for the space, the reorganization of the current elements, and sustainable material choices for construction. Over a series of concept iterations, two student groups developed human scale prototypes, incorporating biophilic furniture and installations that reimagined and reorganized the Nature Lab's Wet Lab.

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The RISD Nature Lab is an EPSCoR|C-AIM Core Research Facility supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221 and EAGER Grant Award #1723559. ​​​Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this site are those of the Nature Lab and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.​

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