Living Edge: How to Bring Natural Surfaces to Any Project

Architizer Editors Architizer Editors

Biophilia proposes that humans have a deep-seated attachment to the world around them. Indeed, because human evolution has almost exclusively taken place in nature, then affinity for it is encoded into our biology. Remove the forces that stimulated our species’ formation — you can take the boy out of the country, as it were — and, suddenly, the inevitable growth of world populations living in cities doesn’t sound all too desirable.

Biophilic design has followed on that thinking as it “seeks to connect our inherent need to affiliate with nature in the modern built environment,” Stephen R. Kellert recently wrote in Metropolis. Integrating opportunities for people to engage with the natural world nourishes this molecular desire for connection and improves health and wellbeing. And the practice is entering the mainstream as studies suggest that its positive human impact — across geography and building type — is measurable in terms of higher student productivity, faster patient recovery, and reduced employee absenteeism.

Another sign that the design movement’s time has come can be found in the realm of architectural products. This marketplace has expanded beyond live-edge wood planks and their ilk to include materials whose availability and endurance recommend usage in a wide array of high-performance spaces.

Commercial office space is one such interior where everyday abuse requires strong, cleanable surfaces. It is also exactly the kind of place where biophilic design has been reported to improve building occupants’ experiences. In response is this scheme for an office lobby with partial views of the feature wall, circulation spine, and boardroom doors, for which SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) interiors director Jaime Velez relied on the Unfiltered palette from SurfaceSet™ 2016 by Formica Corporation.


The Unfiltered series is inspired by authentic raw materials and visually recalls sources like denim, linen, wood, and stone to highly realistic effect. It also comprises soft and warm hues to encourage point-counterpoint combinations. Velez paneled the spine walls in Plex Argent (M5306) DecoMetal® metal laminates by Formica Group to impart an overall calmness to the lobby. The selection also serves as a background to the Ashen Ribbonwood (8839) Formica® Laminate that clads boardroom doors and the lobby’s feature wall and to the circular reception desk whose Weathered Beamwood (6410) Formica® Laminate accents the entry sequence. Velez’s choices not only harmonize as a formal composition but also offer way-finding cues to the new visitor. And it realizes the overall design intent, which Velez describes in a statement as “a timeless and sophisticated atmosphere that reinterprets nature in a modern way.”

Healthcare spaces especially need trustworthy commercial finishes, as well, and Rebecca Donner, founder of Inner Design Studio in Nashville, Tenn., has conceived a VIP hospital patient room that accordingly employs the Raw palette from Formica Corporation’s SurfaceSet™ 2016 collection. Raw features soft, mellow tones of almond, truffle, terra cotta, and moss, and, here, Salvaged Planked Elm (9480) and Washed Knotty Ash (6438) Formica® Laminates create a dual-tone patient head wall. Their colors are echoed in the stained-glass tile surrounding the sink on the facing wall. Donner embraced subtlety elsewhere in the room by choosing neutral colors and patterns for the floor, and Possum (5343) Formica® Laminate was placed on the sink’s countertop.

“The overall design strategy was to keep the palette fairly neutral,” Donner explained in a statement. The neutrality allows the room to look relaxing and fresh even as trends change. Donner’s strategy also allows the focus to remain on views to the outdoors — another biophilic design element — and on the family members whom this VIP hospital room accommodates.

SurfaceSet™ 2016 by Formica Corporation also includes the Saturate palette, which complements Unfiltered and Raw with sorbet and coastal colors and freshly reinterpreted retro patterns that grab attention.

© Scott Dorrance

© Scott Dorrance

Seasoned Planked Elm

That manufacturers like Formica Corporation are supporting architects’ and designers’ moves toward biophilic environments signals that biophilia itself is, nowadays, much more than a hypothesis. And as Velez’s and Donner’s interior concepts show, the growth of the biophilic-design movement can be measured in sophistication as well as corporate imprimatur. Architects who part-jokingly believed that allocating a corner of a room to potted plants was biophilic enough today are looking for the multidimensional strategies that holistically integrate biophilic elements throughout a space. Both trends bode well for the future of cities.

Download the SurfaceSetTM 2016 Lookbook

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