8. BIOMORPHIC FORMS & PATTERNS
INCREASED Preference (1, 3, 4)
INCREASED Place Attachment (1, 3)
DECREASED Anxiety (2, 4, 5)
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” - Albert Einstein
Biomorphic forms are those that represent natural forms often in an abstract way, relying on contour, patterns, and textures to draw a connection to nature. This can appear in architectural or structural form, or in smaller, more decorative applications.
This approach uses nature as an inspiration in creating shapes and details and can be approached through structure, and it has been suggested that structural approaches are more powerful (6).
Smaller, more decorative applications can be seen in banisters or railings, furniture, floor mosaics, window details, fabrics, and wall paper designs.
(6) Kellert et al., 2008
Biomorphic patterns are inspired from complex, yet organized and understandable geometries in nature. Two of the most common geometries found in nature are the Fibonacci sequence and fractal patterns. Fractal patterns have been shown to contribute positively to human well-being by reducing physiological stress responses and increasing view preferences (7-9).
Two related mathematical patterns found in nature are the Fibonacci Sequence and Golden Ratio (a specific example of the Fibonacci Sequence).
The Fibonacci Sequence is represented in the swirl found in everything from a hurricane to a human ear, to a snail shell, to the pattern that seeds in a sunflower make.
(Check out this amazing YouTube video by Vi Hart: Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant)
A fractal is a pattern that is self-similar, meaning it looks the same near as from afar. In nature, these patterns show complex yet ordered structure, repeating a similar shape or detail at different scales, over and over again.
Think of a tree trunk, that splits into two branches, which splits into two more branches, and two more, and so on. Another example is a fern leaf, where the shape of each small leaf on a fern is the same shape as the fern branch.
Research Fun Fact #03
In a study of fractal vs non-fractal artwork abstract, non-fractal artwork increased stress, but natural scenes decreased stress. However, even artificial fractals such as abstracted nature scenes decreased stress. (9)
WHAT ARE THE TAKE AWAYS FOR DESIGN?
These geometires, replicated at the architectural and human scale can offer positive physiological responses. The intention for the designer is not to literally create a perfect golden ratio in form or fabric pattern, or exhibit a mathematically correct fractal pattern (although one could). When one simplifies the qualities these geometries offer the human psyche, the designer can find inspiration in how to create variety, and form an information rich and complex space.
Levels of Perceivable Detail
As one moves through a natural environment, one can see details emerge at all levels. The sun hitting a leaf might first draw interest, then the shape of a leaf, and perhaps next the veins of the leaf. Seeing variety in spaces can help in our general understanding of an environment (10, 11).
What is perceivable in each area of the space? Consider large and small scale details as one moves through a space. This complexity found in nature is something humans are attuned to and there should be detail at each level, from entering the building up to the texture on a fabric.
Nature does not create monotonous repetition. All natural elements such as flowers, trees, animals, waves or clouds show similarity, but also variety – no two are exactly the same (12). Rhythmic repetition is considered natural and calming.
Consider how nature copies and repeats a design with slight variations. Petals on a leaf repeat in the Fibonacci spiral, but are slightly varied in shape and size as they rotate. Complex structures with a great deal of varied repetition can feel much less complex and be more visually appealing (10, 11, 13, 14). How can a shape, color, or texture be repeated, but in varying scales or with slight changes?
Most things in nature, including the human body, are approximately symmetrical. We are drawn to repetition, however, too perfect of symmetry is unnerving.
Very small changes are perceivable by humans. One solution is to provide detail that varies the repetition slightly. Another solution is to group a few elements together into a larger cluster, which then repeats. This offers a scaling hierarchy within each cluster, offering more information for the viewer. Consider a gothic church with groups of columns falling under one large arch, which then repeats. When monotony in form cannot be avoided, could small changes, perhaps cosmetic ones, work towards increasing the detail?
Fractal patterns offer a scaling hierarchy. Romanesco, ferns, and flower petals that repeat shapes in a slightly larger or smaller iteration over and over, are examples found in nature.
Stress is reduced once a nested fractal patterns with three scaled iterations exist (14). Most of modern architecture stops at the second iteration, creating unsuccessful physiological benefits. Fractals must also find a balance. Both highly fractal artwork, as well as non-fractal artwork/architecture, have been shown to increase stress (15). Fractals can be applied at many scales, from an item on a desk, to wall paper, to the design of a building or even city grid, but those visibly perceivable by humans are the most effective.