Natural Patterns and Human Well-being: A Deep Connection
Nature has incredible patterns. Everywhere we turn in the natural world, these intricate patterns emerge, painting a complex tapestry that spans from the expansive spirals of distant galaxies to the delicate symmetry found in a leaf’s structure. These inherent patterns in nature are more than just visual marvels for us; they carry an essential bond to our human psyche. Humans are drawn to nature’s patterns, finding solace, inspiration, and balance within them. They serve as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things and the delicate equilibrium that sustains life.
Whether we’re taking a tranquil walk through a dense forest, observing the mesmerizing ripples in a pond, or simply admiring the elegant tessellations in honeycomb structures, people’s emotional and physiological responses are deeply intertwined with these natural designs. This connection is not merely aesthetic. Research shows nature’s patterns influence our well-being, reducing stress, fostering relaxation, and, ultimately, connecting us to the vast web of life that surrounds us.
Surrounding ourselves with these patterns can induce feelings of calm, reduce stress, and even stimulate cognitive functions. On the contrary, environments that lack these organic motifs can often leave us feeling disoriented, anxious, or overwhelmed. It’s as if our very DNA, a spiral pattern in itself, echoes the need to be in sync with the rhythms and patterns of the natural world.
Examples of Patterns in Nature
From the spirals of a nautilus shell to the symmetry of a butterfly’s wings, nature is a master artist. Everywhere we look, there are mesmerizing patterns that don’t just please our eyes, but also serve a purpose. These natural designs, each with its own unique function, play a vital role in the rhythm and balance of our ecosystem. Let’s dive in and explore examples of repeated patterns in nature:
- Symmetry: A pervasive pattern in nature, symmetry ensures balance and functionality. It’s seen in the face of many mammals, the petals of flowers, and even in the arrangement of leaves on a stem.
- Spirals: From the galaxies in the night sky to the DNA structure within us, spirals are omnipresent. On Earth, the sunflower head and the nautilus shell are testament to this mesmerizing pattern.
- Waves and Ripples: Beyond the obvious waves in oceans and lakes, this pattern can be seen in sand dunes, wind-blown grass, and even in certain rock formations shaped by erosion.
- Spots and Stripes: The animal kingdom showcases this pattern beautifully. The spotted coat of a leopard helps it camouflage, while the zebra’s stripes may play roles in confusing predators and managing body heat.
- Cracks: Often seen in dried landscapes, mud cracks, and tree barks, these patterns arise due to tension and drying.
- Tessellations: Honeycombs, with their hexagonal cells, and the scales of certain fish are classic examples of patterns made of repeated shapes fitting together without gaps.
- Branching: Nature uses branching for distribution, be it the veins in leaves, the structure of coral reefs, or river deltas.
Examples of patterns found in nature.
Patterns in Nature: The Power of Fractals
Nature’s tapestry is vast, and while it boasts an array of patterns, one particular design holds a fascinating allure: fractals. These unique patterns, often seen in snowflakes, tree branches, fern shoots, and coastlines, have the special property of self-similarity, meaning they look similar at any scale. Whether you’re looking at the whole or just a tiny part, fractals keep revealing the same intricate details.
Nikos Salingaros, a luminary in the realms of architecture and mathematics, sees the significance of fractals as more than just aesthetic wonders. He believes that by echoing the mathematical properties observed in nature’s fractals, we can create human-made spaces that enhance well-being, boost productivity, and even aid in healing. The fundamental idea is that when our surroundings mirror the patterns we’re evolutionarily attuned to, we thrive.
In the grand scheme of nature’s patterns, fractals have a special place. Their endless repetition at different scales is not just a visual marvel but also hints at the deeper, inherently fractal essence of nature itself.
Richard Taylor, a physicist from the University of Oregon and another ardent advocate for fractals, believes there’s an intrinsic connection between our eyes and these unique patterns. “Our visual system seems inherently designed to understand fractals,” states Taylor. This understanding isn’t just intellectual; it’s physiological. There’s a harmonious resonance when the fractal structure of our eyes aligns with a viewed fractal image. When our surroundings lack these organic patterns, it subtly yet profoundly disturbs us, even if we’re not consciously aware of it.
The Human Brain: A Master of Pattern Recognition
For ages, scientists have delved into how our brains perceive and interact with patterns in nature. Our brains aren’t just good at recognizing patterns; they excel at it. Some research goes as far as to label pattern processing as “the essence of the evolved human brain.” It’s believed that our evolutionary prowess and progress hinge on our ability for Superior Pattern Processing (SPP). We’re so inclined towards spotting patterns that we often see them even in randomness.
The Healing Nature of Patterns
It’s not merely an academic fascination that patterns resonate with us; they also have therapeutic effects. For instance, patterns, particularly fractals, are known stress reducers. A study from 2006 revealed that integrating fractals into architectural designs can significantly reduce stress. In fact, simply observing fractals has shown to curtail stress by up to 60%. Another compelling piece of research highlighted the recuperative power of nature. Surgical patients with rooms offering views of nature had shorter hospital stays compared to those looking out on a mundane brick wall.
Patterns of nature brought into an interior space.
Nature’s patterns also have an undeniable visual appeal that’s immediately apparent to the viewer. This has a larger implication as well: that nature and its patterns are inherently beautiful. Indeed, people are drawn toward natural materials like wood in the built environment, as observed by A. Quincy Jones. The closer a constructed environment is to the natural world, the more enjoyable it will be, and patterns play a large role here.
Salingaros, of strong opinion that the way we shape our buildings will shape us, feels minimalist spaces void of nature make us uneasy. We must bring nature and its patterns into design. Designers can incorporate natural patterns into the built environment in many creative ways. People have an affinity for natural materials. Thus, to maximize the positive effect of pattern, it makes sense to use natural materials in the process. Materials can be the vehicle to provide pattern or the instrument to create them. Think wooden spiral staircase. The spiral shape is a reflection of nature and the wood, analogous of nature, provides its own natural patterns.
The patterns present in wood are especially beautiful. The size, type and arrangement of wood cells differ from one wood species to another, and this affects the appearance of the grain.Some wood species have very figured grain pattern while others are more refined, all of which can be presented differently depending on how the wood is sawn. Reclaimed wood that has been weathered or naturally distressed over time adds another level of character that can enrich the patterns found in wood.
Patterns of nature in wood table.
The Aesthetic Benefits of Nature’s Patterns
Natural patterns are universally beautiful. When we view the patterns found in wood ––whether it’s a complex fractal or a simple series of cracks ––we perceive beauty. The numerous wellness benefits that patterns can provide present amazing design opportunities.
Even in ancient times, humans grasped the power and attractiveness of patterns. Perhaps that’s why the ancient Pueblo people designed complex geometric structures even though they lacked a number system and alphabet. Patterns that occur in nature, like fractals and the Fibonacci sequence, are timeless and universal. In his book Patterns in Nature, author Philip Ball summed up the effect of patterns: “Natural patterns offer raw delights, but they also point to something deep.”
This focus on patterns has been instrumental to the rise of biophilic design. In the landmark report “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,” Terrapin Bright Green put forth 14 central concepts that detailed the relationship between humans and biophilic architecture. One of those concepts is Biomorphic Forms & Patterns. A biomorphic pattern is simply a pattern found in nature or a pattern that simulates a natural pattern. As Terrapin puts it, “The objective of Biomorphic Forms & Patterns is to provide representational design elements within the built environment that allow users to make connections to nature.” One of the best (and easiest) ways to make that happen is to use natural materials, which is why reclaimed wood is so useful.
The Abundance of Patterns in Reclaimed Wood
From TerraMai: This reclaimed redwood has wavy and spiraling figure pattern
No matter the type of wood, the abundance of patterns will have a positive effect on the viewer. The patina and weathering marks present in post-consumer reclaimed wood accentuate the natural patterns and add character.
Patterns make up a critical part of the natural world, and as humans, we’re meant to connect with these patterns on an innate, instinctive level. Knowing how beneficial patterns are, it makes perfect sense to build them into all aspects of design. In short, including patterns into the built environment––especially in the form of natural building materials like reclaimed wood––will optimize the design for the human brain. Occupants will be happier, more productive, and enjoy the overall experience more.