August 19, 2013
by Laura Dyer Hild

Being designers of the built environment, we have a commitment to creating spaces that bring us closer to nature.  As human beings, we subconsciously seek out the natural environment.  This is otherwise known as biophilia.

Nature has a way of bringing calm to stressful environments that people may work in day after day.  At the end of a work week, we want to spend our time outside.  Depending on where you live that could be at the river swimming or hiking through the woods.  We want to see the shining stars and hear the hoot of an owl.  This is the connection to nature that we innately feel.

As cities have grown over the many decades, there has been a loss of that natural environment.  Building upon building, asphalt parking lots, the concrete jungle as a whole has taken over.  We should be able to experience nature in these urban cities where we may work, play, and even live.  Leaving the city on the weekend shouldn’t be a requirement if you need to decompress.

For this reason, biophilic cities are popping up throughout the world.  Timothy Beatley from the University of Virginia authored a book called Biophilic Cities in which he describes the use of natural elements in an urban city.  There is an initiative going on presently to use this concept in many cities today.  Overall these urban locations are designing more rooftop gardens, building wall gardens inside and outside, as well as sidewalk gardens.

High Line Park in New York City is a prime example of this.   Hi Line is a former elevated railroad that has been redesigned and transformed into an “aerial greenway”.   Creating this park has actually spurred development in the neighborhoods around the area.

Another way to get people closer to nature, in San Francisco “parklets” also known as sidewalk gardens has been popping up throughout the city. These are creating moments in which people will stop to congregate in an area that was typically being used as parking spaces.


Across the globe in Singapore, there is a new hospital that has window boxes at patient rooms and fruit trees in the lobby and on the roof. According to surveys, patients enjoy watching farmers taking care of the trees and gardens. Not only are these environments healing patients but they are creating a bigger ecosystem where birds and butterflies are attracted to the outside gardens that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

The video below discusses Singapore as a biophilic city. It’s a long video but worth viewing.

Here in the Richmond office, we have taken this concept to heart. We’ve been designing a Children’s Pavilion for our Virginia Commonwealth University Health System client which incorporates a natural setting. This new building is located on the urban hospital campus within Downtown Richmond. We’ve designed a Sky Terrace Garden off of the Lobby area for the public, staff, and patients to use. The terrace is elevated four levels above ground on a fifteen story building that includes several levels of below and above ground parking. When it’s completed you will see a garden elevated among the high rise buildings. Hopefully, this will be the first step to creating more natural environments in the downtown urban city of Richmond and on the VCU Medical Center campus.

Efforts are already underway and in place for more access along the James River as a destination for those living in the city. Eagles, unheard of in the area can now be seen flying over the river near the HKS Richmond office.