For many scholars and their scientific innovations, nature is the primary source and inspiration of wisdom. The very orderly complex formal and spatial design of elements in nature, trees, the river, the mountain, animals and people, has a holistic appearance and are interconnected to each other. This connection directly and indirectly has positive impacts on the wellbeing of human beings. Besides this fact a 2005 study conducted by the California Department of Education found that students who participated in nature programs performed 27% better in science testing than students in traditional classrooms.
Human beings are biologically predisposed to require contact with natural forms. Edward Wilson argued that, people are not capable of living a complete and healthy life detached from nature. By this Wilson means that we benefit from direct contact with living biological forms, and not the poor substitute we see in so many urban and architectural settings today. Wilson’s biology-based architectural hypothesis asserts that we need contact with nature and with the complex geometry of natural forms, just as much as we require nutrients and air for our metabolism.
Even though what Wilson asserted is logically correct, Architecture, which plays a significant role in massive social engineering, of today does not seem to incorporate natural elements in their design. Human beings are becoming just cogs in the machinery of the universe. Contemporary physics paints precisely such a hopeless picture of cosmic irrelevant for human nature and spirit. For example, kitchens changed from being geometrically messy to looking like sterile factory environments; and from being made from soft and natural materials to being built using hard industrial materials. Plants (not to mention domestic animals) had no place there.
Biology-based design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important. Theorists, research scientists, and design practitioners have been working for decades to define aspects of nature that most impact our satisfaction with the built environment.
In a worldwide context, the biology-based approach to architectural design has been practiced in hospitals and other health related facilities for their health enhancement and restorative benefits. Though it is proved by researchers that the human-nature connectedness plays a highly significant role in the health, productivity, cognitive performance and well-being of human beings, the practice has not yet been popular on educational facilities.
But it is evident that a very little of concern, almost negligible, has been given to the power of architecturally designed environment on the student’s mindset, especially in third world countries like Ethiopia. Most of the school buildings are rather diminishing than enhancing; discouraging than reinforcing. Though the learning process is dynamic, that needs movement and freedom, the classroom spaces children engage in are very confined and unnatural; they don’t allow students to imagine beyond the formal thinking and better efficiency.
Schools are places where the social engineering mentioned earlier happens to our young selves, our children, the generation in general. Since we were young, in lower grades, we were taught to think outside the box and be creative while we were still learning inside a static rectangular warehouse type of box composed of identical, plain and story less materials.
Despite the remarkable expansion, quality of education in our country has been compromised. Many observers consider the Ethiopian education system to be in crisis, and the quantitative achievements in areas like primary enrolments mask stagnation in terms of quality and learning outcomes.
According to a report of MoE in 2018, these days in Ethiopia, 99 percent of primary school aged children attend school, a threefold increase from 1994. And yet, literacy lags behind. The Ethiopia’s National Learning Assessment revealed that students learning at grades 4 and 8 failed to meet standards. USAID’s 2016 Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) suggests that only about a third of grade 2 and 3 students can read at a functional level (more that 20-25 words per minute). And as UNESCO reported in 2016, poor quality provision of facilities is one of the major problems.
As mentioned earlier, even though education has been expanding throughout the country, illiteracy rate and socio-economic recession of our country has not changed significantly. It is envisaged that this thesis would play an enormous role in producing an ethical, enlightened and productive force of the society by proposing a proper way of school environment design.
Though there have been other researchers who worked on education enhancement here in Ethiopia, almost all of them ahorseback the issue on the quality of the educators, administrators and other socio-economic issues but not on the architecturally built environment.
Currently, the country is controlled by politicians and the riches, who somehow enrolled in elementary school; these two groups are the causes for most of the disturbances and destructions. For our country to prosper, we need enough ethical and enlightened scholars who can enlighten the society from the darkness of illiteracy. For that to happen our schools should also be ethical. As Kieran asserted achieving ethical architecture without the integration of nature to it is impossible.
Parents forgot thinking about their children, lost in their material concerns. They only care for the fact that their children are attending school, but not about the physiological and psychological impacts of the school’s spatial environment on their well-being and cognitive performances. So, the trend of school spatial design should be rethought in a way that it can reconcile and be integrated with the mother nature.
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, into the design of the built environment.
The term “biophilic design” was coined by Stephen Kellert, Professor of Social Ecology at Yale University. It emerged from the translation of the concept of applying biophilia into design and the built environment. Further, the term “built environment”, referring to humanmade places and spaces ranging in scale to provide the human activities of live, work and recreate, itself distinguishes the built from the natural environment.
As mentioned before, the purpose of education is, as Socrates once said, not the filling of the vessel; but the kindling of a flame. So, in another word its purpose is to create an enlightened and ethical productive power of a society.
So, being all that said school spaces; classrooms, libraries, outdoor playing areas should be a three-dimensional text book in which the architecture or design of building elements should enhance emotional, physical and mental performances. Biophilic design can be an effective tool for that to happen.