Bringing Spaces to Life – Biophilic Spatial Design

Connecting People, Nature and Space


The project ran in conjunction with Green Week and the Wild Renaturing the City symposium at the London College of Communication.

Year 2 BA (Hons) Spatial Design and BA (Hons) Design Management and Cultures students recently completed a project where, working in small groups, they investigated and transformed a site within the City of London, using design schemes based on biophilic principles. Spatial Design students provided the design for the site transformations and Design Management & Cultures students worked on branding and promoting of the site.


The aim of the project was to imagine a better future and demonstrate how biophilic principles can bring spaces to life. To improve health and wellbeing by providing a spatial design solution towards the design of an urban interior that reconnects people with the natural world, and to make this space a destination for the general public.

Film by: Claudia, Rebecca, Ola from BA (Hons) Design Management & Cultures with the participation of Nahla, Coco, Anna, Hannah from BA (Hons) Spatial Design.

Visuals of the projects by spatial design students

Film by: Fareeha, Georgia, Ainofrom BA (Hons) Design Management & Cultures with the participation of Alice, Jason, Zahraa, Nisha from BA (Hons) Spatial Design.

Biophilic design

‘Biophilic design is the deliberate attempt to translate an understanding of the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes – known as biophilia’ (Kellert, 2008: 3). Thus, ‘The idea of biophilic design arises from the increasing recognition that the human mind and body evolved in a sensorially rich world, one that continues to be critical of people’s health, productivity, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual wellbeing’ (Kellert, 2008: vii).

Modern building practices promote a model that is often resource intensive and unsustainable, and where the natural world is either neglected, substantially altered, highly controlled, or eradicated altogether.

The prevailing breach between the modern built environment and the natural world has resulted in ‘environmental degradation, and separation of people from natural systems and processes’ (Kellert, 2008: vii). The body becomes alienated from its natural surroundings, both physically and psychologically, resulting in what Professor David Orr describes as ‘a sense of placelessness’ whereby the lack of understanding in ecological processes results in spaces that ‘resonate with no part of our biology, evolutionary experience, or aesthetic sensibilities’ (Orr, 1999: 213).

Designing for the senses – with the RNIB

Collaborative Project – Designing for the Senses: RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People) redesign

Second year students engaged with the RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People) to redesign their lobby and waiting area, in order to make it more appealing to the senses, more inclusive for disabled users and more in line with RNIB’s brand communication.

This video is one of the group responses to the brief, documenting their design process.


Collaborative Project – Designing for the Senses: RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People) redesign from BA Spatial Design on Vimeo.

Fresh Air Square evaluation study

Third year students on the BA (Hons) Spatial Design at the London College of Communication are working with Team London Bridge to carry out an evaluation study of Tooley Street Fresh Air Square.


Bench and spatial design by WMB Studio

Fresh Air Squares is an initiative by Team London Bridge to insert modular micro-parks (parklets) across the London Bridge area to transform 2 car parking spaces into mini green hubs for a period of one week to a year. The objective is to introduce public green spaces into the streetscape, to improve the local environment by making it more place and people focused, and raise awareness of air quality issues.


In April 2015 Team London Bridge launched a competition to design the first parklet, located in Tooley Street. The project is run in partnership with Transport For London, King’s College London, CJS Plants and Vauxhall One. The winning design, by WMB Studio, incorporates a striking bench seating, specialised plants species to mitigate air pollution, sustainable urban drainage and an air quality monitoring station.

The BA (Hons) Spatial Design at the London College of Communication (University of the Arts London) is working in collaboration with team London Bridge to evaluate users’ experience of the Fresh Air Square initiative and how it can inform the provision of future Fresh Air Squares in the area. Students carry out on site primary research to document and evaluate people’s experience of the space. Initial findings show that the design of the parklet is very popular with London Bridge communities.

Inhabiting the Transition Space

We recently ran a project with the 2nd year BA (Hons) Spatial Design at the London College of Communication (University of the Arts London) where, in collaboration with South West Trains in Wimbledon station, students were asked to re-examine the way people inhabit a transition space.

As part of the project, students were introduced to research methods instigated by the Course leader, Valerie Mace. Valerie developed methods and techniques that facilitate the documentation of atmospheric qualities in spaces, the intangible world of sensory perceptions and subjective experiences. The objective was to enable designers to conduct sensory driven transformation into a wide range of spaces. The original research project was published in a paper called ‘Sensing the Urban Interior’ and presented at the [in]arch conference at Universitas Indonesia in Depok (Jakarta) in 2014.

This project started with a question:
How can we regenerate spaces by manipulating their atmospheric qualities?


The project explored the sensory relationships between the intimate space of the body and the interior of a transition space, the ubiquitous train station. Every morning, Monday to Friday, our cities experience an influx of people commuting towards their center to work and reversing their journey to go back home in the evening. This creates a social phenomenon whereby the experience many people have of the city’s urban interiors is transient. This experience is also impersonal as the design of the spaces that facilitate this daily commute is often constrained to performing specific functions such as moving people from A to B, with limited opportunities for people to interact with their surroundings and even less so with each other. So the train station is an interior commuters experience and inhabit on a daily basis yet very little of the design takes into account the way the space affects people, either psychologically or emotionally. Therefore, the objective of the project was to understand how these environments impact on people’s everyday life by exploring and identifying the processes in which sensory experiences are managed and controlled, in order to develop a human centred phenomenological approach to the design process and in doing so, offer innovative solutions that will alter the way people perceive, experience and inhabit these interiors.

So the project invited students to rethink the relationship between body and space in the context of a transition space, provide sensory driven transformations that alter the atmospheric qualities of the interior in a positive way and create a sense of place, thus making the experience of individual and collective journeys a more enjoyable one.

The brief
We used Wimbledon train station as the project site. Students were divided in small study groups and assigned to a specific schedule of visits agreed by the station management. Upon arrival, students met with staff to be briefed on health and safety requirements. Wimbledon station is a small but essential commuting zone in South-West London, with trains to Clapham Junction, Waterloo and London Bridge. It also offers direct access to the London Underground District Line. The interior of the station is designed for a very specific purpose, that of moving between platforms and entry/exit points, waiting for and boarding trains. The singularity of the interior means that people experience enforced boredom and are made to wait for trains in environmentally uncomfortable conditions. Spaces selected for the project are the main ticket hall and platform 9.


The task was to redesign the space or elements of the space (an intervention) to change and enhance people’s perceptions and experience of the station and of commuting, without obstructing the interior’s primary function and the constrains associated with safety and security within the station’s interior and platforms. For example, staff needs to retain total visibility from one end of the platform to the other and at peak times, the station accommodates a large volume of people moving in different directions. Students also needed to observe South West Trains branding requirements, such as their colour range.

As part of this project students were required to document existing spatial atmospheric conditions within the station in order to establish a set of desired spatial atmospheric conditions that will become the basis for a sensory design intervention. By using the site for primary research, they were able to explore ways to make people feel more positive about their experience and provide opportunities for them to engage with their surroundings. They could, for example, choose to soften the experience through a series of subtle changes, address the issue of waiting and the negative affect of delays, or aim to provide a friendlier environment. Whichever their approach, they needed to keep people moving at all times (no bottlenecks or overcrowding in any single area) and observe safety issues. In other words, this wasn’t a decorating exercise and students needed to provide a solution that considers all aspects of the site.


The project was structured into 4 stages:

Stage 1: Discover – Students were required to use phenomenological led design research methods to reveal existing spatial atmospheric conditions through the documentation of the interior architecture, materials and their relationships, actual and perceived temperature, objects, movement and time, thresholds and transitions, scale and distances in relation to the body, the light and corresponding shadows.

Stage 2: Define – Students were required to map, analyse and visualise existing spatial atmospheric conditions to understand how the design of the space affects people within it. Then they were able to propose a set of desired spatial atmospheric conditions that formed the basis of the development of design solutions.

Stage 3: Develop – Students generated design proposals using their research, analysis and initial design developments. They visualised and communicated their design proposals through drawings, prototypes and storyboards. They were encouraged to develop their own interpretation of what the design intervention could be although they were required to integrate at least one sensory attribute within its design that wasn’t visual. So the design would be something people can sense and experience in more ways than by just looking at it. It could also be in one place or made of a series of related elements across the site. The proposed design needed to alter the way people feel about being in the station and provide opportunities for alternative behavioural and emotional situations.

Stage 4: Deliver – Students were required to fully map, visualise and realise their design proposal for the project. As well as mapping drawings and diagrams depicting the changes in spatial atmospheric conditions, they needed to demonstrate the positive effect of the changes on behaviour and emotions, and evaluate how their design created a sense of place.


At the end of this stage students showcased their work to a review panel while some of the presentations were filmed and included in a short film of the project.

Experiencing Spaces Lecture Series – October/November 2014

This term’s Spatial and CTS Lecture Series explores the theme Experiencing Spaces, looking at designers and thinkers who address people’s experiences of spaces. These events are organised by the Spatial Communication and Contextual and Theoretical Studies Programme as a platform for key thinkers and practitioners working across boundaries and at the cutting edge of their disciplines to present their work at LCC.

Monday 27 October: Charles Holland, Ordinary Architecture and FAT architecture
4.30 to 6.00 PM Main Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 30 October: Joana Seguro, Artists and Engineers
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 6 November: Sam Hill, PAN
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 13 November: Harriet Harris, Oxford Brookes University
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 20 November: Linda Florence, Designer
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

More information on each speaker in the PDF Lecture Series – Experiencing Spaces

Serpentine Pavilion

Every Summer the ground near the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park London is host to a temporary pavilion designed by a different architect each year. This is an opportunity for architects to design unique experiences and I have been a regular visitor for the last few years since I accidentally came across Jean Nouvel’s 2010 pavilion while crossing Hyde Park one evening, as it happened, the day before it was due to close to the public. The pavilion was aptly called ‘The red sun pavilion’. The building metaphorically and literally reflected on its surroundings in a chromatic explosion of reds amongst the green landscape. The intensity was at its most striking on approach when the pavilion suddenly appeared in full view and translucent panels positioned to capture the evening sunlight created an artificially induced sunset, painting the surroundings with splashes of red, transforming the site into a three-dimensional canvas. The result was dynamic and evocative, yet unlike anything usually experienced in the vast expanse of Hyde Park. It’s the memory of the drama of this sudden and unexpected explosion of reds in the glowing light of the sunset set within the intense green surroundings that brings me back each year in anticipation for another unique experience. The element of surprise is actually very important or the emotional impact of the design would be ruined so I try to avoid photographs or articles about the pavilion before going there, which can be quite difficult with so much information reaching us all the time. Even then, the impact is perhaps never quite as intense. Just knowing that there will be a pavilion takes away some of the surprise.

Peter Zumthor’s 2011 pavilion was completely different, one that celebrated our senses in a more contemplative way. On approach, a simple black volumes giving nothing away but with contrasting curved paths inviting a gentle meandering towards its interior. The sudden change in atmospheric conditions once going through the threshold was however remarkable. The contrast between the brightness of the light in the park, the cool tones of its environment and that of the soft light and warm tones of the interior created an instant shift in perceptions. The mind felt immediately more calm, rested. The sounds from the park became distant and I became wrapped in the silence of the corridor like space. The rough concrete of the path was replaced by dark wood and a subtle sweet and pleasant smell emanated from the surfaces around me. I expect that the corridor like space that surrounded the main interior acted as a transition, a threshold, that prepared people for the main interior. Inside was a rectangular space with a sitting area around central a garden so people were invited to enjoy the spectacle of nature within architecture, mentally far removed from external concerns. The area above the garden was opened to the sky and although when I went it was a bright sunny day, I decided to go back next time it rained to experience the effect of the summer rain within the interior. I wasn’t disappointed. Like the contrast created on entry with the enigmatic low light and subtle scent, the effect of the rain falling through the centre of the space was extraordinary in the strength of its simplicity. These two moments are what I took away with me from this experience and although this is the only building by Peter Zumthor I have had the opportunity to visit, I was totally won over by his amazing ability to create atmospheres, his thoughtful choreography of perceptual and sensorial relationships. I since discovered that in 2003 he gave a lecture on atmospheres, published in a book of the same name. In it he says that ‘quality architecture to me is when a building manages to move me’ and this is exactly what happened to me when I experienced his pavilion.

The 2012 pavilion was designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron in collaboration with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Conceptually it was brilliant. The architects excavated about 5 feet into the soil of the park until they reached groundwater. There they dug a hole to act as a well to collect the rain that falls into the area, thus incorporating the water underneath the soil into the pavilion. They also uncovered the remains of former foundations from previous pavilions and instead of obliterating them, they carefully identified and recorded these physical remains to incorporate them into the footprint of the design, reconstructing their forms to various heights, forming convoluted horizontal lines and creating what they called ‘the serendipitous gift of a distinctive landscape’. This landscape could only be appreciated from inside the pavilion although its programmatic drawings were on display in the Serpentine gallery nearby. The entire space was covered with a metal flat roof with a thin layer of water reflecting the sky and trees of the surrounding park. The water could apparently be drained from the roof to become a platform or stage for events. Inside the 3D landscape was entirely covered in cork (including mushroom/champagne cork shaped seats), which to me, from a distance, looked like concrete. Unlike concrete however, this material was warm to the touch and I expect it was chosen for its haptic qualities. As I said, conceptually brilliant and from the photographs I saw, unfortunately I wasn’t able to see it when it was dark, it looked striking at night (although carefully framed and edited photographs cannot replace real experiences). So why didn’t I enjoy being there? The day time atmosphere of the interior didn’t work for me. I perceived a coldness and dampness that didn’t exist because being inside the space gave me a similar feeling as that of being in a basement, like the cellars I remember from the old French houses of my childhood. Although it clearly wasn’t and I was warm, I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. The roof was fairly low and the light didn’t penetrate the core of the interior space, which was quite dark and made the cork look slightly grey. The feeling was intensified by the lonely utilitarian lights fixed to the ceiling. The contrast between the bright exterior and dark centre was theoretically interesting but like most people who were there that day I chose to stay on the edges of the space. I expect that in a very hot country it would be a completely different experience, whereby this cool environment covered in refreshing water would then be a welcome haven from the heat. I don’t have any photographs but bustler has excellent ones.

The Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto designed the 2013 pavilion. A clever work of strength and lightness, simplicity in complexity. The structure appears to follow the basic architectural principles of point, line, plane and volume. Simple metal bars are connected together to create cartesian cubic forms however, their irregular growth and lack of symmetry lend the space its organic character. So the architects invited us to explore and meander through the pavilion, creating different levels where people could climb to. The core of the interior remained free of obstructions to accommodate a cafe with a much more traditional table and chairs sitting area, which I thought was a shame and took away some of the immersive proposition of the design but then also brought with it an atmosphere of conviviality. The design of the steps was very clever. It was obvious that the architect wanted them to blend as much as possible with the rest of the structure so their construction used the exact same metal bars. However, instead of the cubes being hollow, these were covered with glass and a very subtle pattern in the same white as the bars. To make it even more interesting, most of the stepped areas were actually platforms of varying sizes so nothing in this space was predictable, each part offered a coherent yet different experience so it was not really possible to define its layout with a clear mental map as we often expect in contemporary buildings and I think that was perhaps the point Sou Fujimoto was trying to get to. Despite is chaotic appearance the atmosphere is tranquil as people are forced to let go of their preconceptions and expectations. It’s a completely new experience and one that people seemed to embrace with the curiosity and enthusiasm often seen in children but less so in adults.

I visited the site during the day but I came across a video, which shows a completely different kind of experience. The space is transformed by the sharp contrast between light and dark, creating a powerful atmosphere that electrifies the senses.

Interior design drawing education in the digital age

Interior design drawing education in the digital age by Valerie Mace 
I originally presented this short paper at a Spatial Communication programme symposium at London College of Communication

Design process visuals

Example of mixed media spatial design development visualisation. From left to right: sketch drawing, CAD, card model, digital visual, hand drawing with collage. 

Over the last 20 years, the advent of personal computers and the development of CAD software have precipitated a polarisation of skills in architectural and interior design drawing and visualisation. It could even be alleged that it created two distinct camps, those against and those in favour of using computers.

In this paper I briefly underline the fundamentals of design drawings and visualisation as well as the role of sketching in the digital age from a students centred perspective. I also reason that a rise in computer use doesn’t automatically lead to a drop in design quality and that the ideal outcome is for both methods to coexist alongside each other.
In the advent of computers, students learnt to draw 2D and 3D projections as well as measured perspective in order to communicate their design intent. These drawings were an art form in their own right and took considerable time and effort to perfect.

Being able to draw however doesn’t make an architect or designer. In the early 1900’s principles of draftmanship came under attack from architects such as John Ruskin and William Morris. They argued that architecture was too often judged on the quality of the drawing, not the merit of the design.

Today similar claims are being made in the educational debate between hand drawing and digital drawing where, in the words of Davis Clews, ‘one form of production, say manual, is placed in opposition to another, say digital’1.

When computers entered the scene, they were bulky unsightly boxes with complex and awkward design software to match. It isn’t difficult to see why initially only the most enthusiastic found any interest in their use as design and visualisation tools. However, with more advanced developments in computer systems and a rise in affordable yet sophisticated design software, computers began to take over.

In architecture software such as Autocad lead the way. The technical nature of orthogonal projections and the level of precision required was consistent with computer technology and today all architects and working drawings are produced using some form of CAD software. So far so good although as a result, students often perceive CAD as an essential skill towards employability, to the detriment of sketching and drawing.

This notion snowballs into the field of 3D visualisation where the polarisation of skills becomes more endemic. Students, dazzled by the prospects offered by the software and their new found skills, often discard drawing and sketching as an irrelevant and tedious process and hide a lack of design acumen behind a false sense of achievement offered by computer visuals.

So making a parallel with John Ruskin and William Morris, the drawback of using computers is that students may only judge their work on the quality of the drawing, not the merit of the design. The problem is compounded by the fact that as with drawing, digital visualisation requires considerable time and effort to perfect so early outcomes are often clumsy and fail to impress anyone but the student.

Sketching on the other hand is quick, informal and looked upon by the majority of teachers and practitioners as an integral part of the design process. It is the universal language of design development and no self-respecting architect or designer would be seen leaving the comfort of their studio without a notebook and pencil. Failing that they could always rely on the availability of a trustee napkin.

Sketching is perceived as critical because it enables students to learn about the world around them, taking time to observe and reflect. It also enables them to visually articulate their ideas, to themselves and others. Sketches don’t have to be works of art but to convey ideas and provide a platform to focus the design and develop sound concepts.

Losing the ability to sketch produces, according to Peter Eisenman, passive architects (and designers). Such passive attitudes concede to the software considerable ownership of the design process and design intent, with obvious adverse consequences to the development of emerging designers. In my experience, it isn’t uncommon for students to abandon an idea simply because they didn’t know how to draw it digitally. Those who rely too much on computers for their design concepts and don’t possess sufficient knowledge of the software limit themselves to what they can draw, leading to weak and inappropriate design solutions.

It doesn’t mean that computers shouldn’t be part of design education. Many design software are now industry standard and when used effectively, they do provide considerable advantages. They offer substantial prospects for exploration and experimentation in a virtual world. They facilitate seamless workflows and make the revision process easier and faster. They can replicate realistic lighting conditions and textures. In some cases they can even test structures and weather conditions. Without computers and software some of the more innovative architecture and design to emerge in the last 10 to 15 years wouldn’t exist.

CAD software can also be used as design development tools to test and experiment in the same way as traditional model making does. They can be used to produce quick floor plans or perspectives to work as underlay for sketches or even presentation drawings, facilitating the design process. In addition, software manufacturers have developed more intuitive processes and enable users to emulate a variety of sketch styles, aiming to bridge the gap between the flexibility of work in progress and the rigid nature of the outcome often associated with digital drawing.

However, no matter how sophisticated the software, a computer is a machine and a machine can only do what we tell it to do. So although initially the issue may have been with the machine and its limitations, as it becomes more advanced, it is shifting towards users and their limitations. As I previously commented upon, a machine is only as good as its user.

Which is why learning how to visualise creative ideas should still be at the heart of design education and sketching instrumental to the design process. To enable students to develop critical design visualisation skills and gain confidence in their ability as designers while computer visualisation software will enable them to push the boundaries of 3D exploration.

Drawing and computers are therefore not mutually exclusive. They complement each other, they are integral to the design process and indispensable constituents of the designer’s tool kit. Each have their own strengths. Used together and appropriately they are a catalyst for strong design solutions and visual outcomes with soul and personality.


Porter T. (1997) The architect’s eye, Taylor & Francis

Eisenman P. & Spiller N. (2008) Have computers damaged architects’ design quality? [Last visited 29 December 2012]

Visual. Report on the 2nd Art Design Media Subject Centre Annual Forum (2007) <> [Last visited 29 December 2012]

LCCs Emma Williams wins a prize for her sketchbook at the 2012 Student Wallpaper Design Competition

The 2012 Student Wallpaper Design Competition, organised by LCC alumni Caroline McNamara, has recently been showing shortlisted & winning entrants wallpaper designs based on the work of the amazing AWN Pugin as part of the London Design Festival. Pugin created all the patterns & decorative surfaces in the Palace of Westminster, & it’s the 200th Anniversary of his birth this year. The show was held at the Imago Gallery in Mayfair.

Amongst them was our student, Emma Williams. She was awarded a prize for her sketchbooks by the Pugin Society, & her work was also put on display in Pugins house in Ramsgate. Emma’s sketchbooks are gorgeous – chock-a-block with sketches, collages & so on that play with the ideas she was developing to use in her final wallpaper competition submission – it really is a visual diary of her thinking whilst she was creating her designs. So exciting.

Well done Emma !!!




Akihisa Hirata Tangling Seminar: Tuesday 17/09/12 Bloomberg auditorium. Exhibition: 15/09/12 to 17/09/12 Architecture Foundation.

The architect Akihisa Hirata presented his work in the Bloomberg auditorium in London Finsbury Square on Tuesday 17 September, to coincide with his immersive installation – a 1 to 1 scale contorted loop – to ‘distill his architecture’s essence into a large scale experiential structure’.

Hirata views architecture and ecology, form and function, as a complex, interwoven ‘tangle’. He aims to move away from 20th century architectural theories and provide new organic solutions for the 21st century. This is made possible by his ability to extract the essence of the natural world, simplify it and transpose it into his buildings. The thought process is incredibly clear and the rationale of simplification of complex environments is supported by relentless prototyping until a suitable solution is found. In his work he uses a combination of sketches, physical and computer models, all on display at the exhibition. Although firmly established in the natural world, the realisation of some of his projects relies on complex technologies.

He conducted his fascinating lecture entirely in English and took us through the philosophy and methodology driving the design process across a range of projects from private housing to galleries to public spaces. The lecture was filmed and I’m told will be available on the Architecture Foundation website soon. Worth watching before visiting the exhibition. You can also discover his work in his newly published book Tangling.