The Apartment Building Hallway—The Case for a Biophilic Design Approach

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

Can biophilic design theory translate to and transform your building hallways?


Encased as we are most of the day in

our dwellings and offices made of plaster, stone, concrete, steel and glass, we urbanites may find the concept that human beings most readily connect with elements of nature more than a little ironic.


Just think of that ubiquitous long, long hallway to most apartment dwellings. It’s a space most people think is done easily: an appropriate floor finish, a inoffensive wall finish, a bit of wiring raceway crown and lights—it’s good to go.


Let’s consider this, though: Evidence-based studies of built-environments underscore the fact that human beings thrive in spaces designed intentionally to incorporate both direct and indirect experience of natural elements. This is the essence of biophilic design theory. Today’s top design professionals purposefully incorporate these ideas into their work—better to create environments that support the health, safety and welfare of the people who will use those spaces.


Studies support our understanding that reduced human stress levels directly correlate to biophilic design elements incorporated into the design of public and institutional environments like schools, malls, and airports. And we know that patients benefit greatly in healthcare environments designed with biophilic intent. Employees are happiest in biophilic-designed office spaces, leading to verifiable increases in employee happiness and health, all of which impact productivity, worker retention, and business profitability.


But what about those yards and yards of uninspired apartment building hallways? Is this just a utilitarian space to be endured day in and day out as a rectilinear, cost-efficient and otherwise uninspired conduit from your lobby to your apartment home? Why not apply biophilic principles in a hallway redesign project and transform the experience into something more uplifting?


Biophilic Design Considerations for A Compelling Hallway:


What biophilic design tactics could inspire your building’s hallway renovation project? Obviously we can’t change the physical shape of the space, but we can make interesting choices of materials. Here are a few thoughts on the subject:


Design Fundamentals: At its root, design always addresses relationships. As a case in point, every material chosen, and how these are placed into a space in relationship to each other, matters hugely. So it’s important to consider how well key design elements in a hallway space affect a satisfying sense of proportion, pattern, geometry, style, color, etc.


Spatial Perception: A thoughtful application of even basic material choices can make a hallway that feels like “a long way to walk” into something more “human-scale” and inviting to traverse. Perhaps you’ve experienced a hotel hallway where a design in the carpet or walls breaks up the long spaces. Imaginative design can do wonders. The idea of creating human-scale space is indeed part of biophilic thinking.


Wayfinding: Conveniently, visually breaking up the hallway length can also assist in a person more easily finding their way when done with intention. This is especially true for very long hallways and identical doorways differentiated only by a number tag.


The Floor Plane: It’s relatively easy to add biophilic design elements into the floor plane. Manufacturers of commercial grade carpeting have embraced biophilic designs in their product, incorporating patterns and textures evocative of nature. Layout design using the now ubiquitous carpet tile adds yet another level of design opportunity and customization.


The Wall Plane: Commercial wall covering manufacturer’s now offer a wide assortment of products that evoke nature, some more so than others. Whether a simple textured “grass-cloth” look to a large-scale printed graphic custom or otherwise, it’s all out there.


Price Points: Today there are biophilic designed options at almost every price point. If materials are selected carefully and laid out in an artful design every building’s hallways can be transformed for the better.


Of course, there is a lot more to understand about the elements that go into compelling hallway design than what’s been written here. Identifying a cohesive style from the lobby throughout the building and making appropriate color and lighting choices are just two. And let’s not for a moment ignore critical fire-code and accessibility issues.


A key-take away here then is that while a hallway can be done in an entirely utilitarian manner, with a modicum of clever design, the result can be greatly improved aesthetics and function, which all tie into a more enjoyable human experience of your hallway spaces.


#hallwaydesign #biophilic

 Photo credits: Maria Linnaea

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