BDP Discusses Biophilic Design for a Heriot Watt Campus

BDP Discusses Biophilic Design for a Heriot Watt Campus

Bruce Kennedy, Architect Director at BDP, discusses the use of biophilic design for the Heriot Watt campus in Dubai. Every level of the campus benefits from a series of subtle features and carefully considered themes that provide relief from the extreme environment that can reach 50 degrees Celsius in summer.

Using biophilic design principles, BDP has managed to transform a seven-storey office block overlooking the Arabian Gulf into a unified vertical campus for a Scottish university. The nature around has informed the orientation of learning spaces; the choice of materials for walls, floors and furniture; the flow of air, and even hanging felt screens that absorb sound and provide privacy in open-plan staff areas.

Biophilic design has been shown to enhance wellbeing. Although plants, as shown in Heriot Watt’s Dubai Campus where interior green walls run through all levels, can form an important part of the design, it is about more than that. It is also about textural elements, a rich variety of patterns, the choice of natural over synthetic materials and the inclusion of ‘biomimicry,’ which in this case includes carpets that recall stone, moss and grass.

BDP’s inspiration for the design of the Dubai campus was the designed landscape of Heriot Watt’s Riccarton Estate. Its lush green parkland has an exceptional tree collection and provided a compelling context for the application of biophilic principles; referencing Scottish standing stones and the pavements of Edinburgh in the slate-lined walls and monolithic reception desk that welcome visitors to Dubai.

Biophilic design has succeeded in giving the Dubai campus a sense of identity, orientating staff who travel between the Gulf and Edinburgh, and offering its students a unique connection to the heritage of this ancient Scottish university.

Arabic culture is referenced in elements that include an interpretation of traditional mashrabiya screens – a laser-cut, gold anodised aluminium veil encircling the welcome space. Its pattern is lifted from the Heriot Watt coat of arms and filters the sun, recalling the dappled light passing through Riccarton’s tree canopy – while the choice of wood for furniture provides another grounding element within the borrowed landscape. An important aspect of biophilic design is its ability to unite interior and exterior environments, and BDP has located social learning spaces where to provide views through palm trees toward the Gulf.

To visitors, staff and students, not all of these features will be immediately evident, but they combine on a subliminal level to instill a sense of belonging. And the client, Heriot Watt University, was open to the philosophy. They understood that biophilic design would enrich the learning environment, infusing the Dubai campus with an identity that links it to its Edinburgh roots.

In Dubai, this approach has provided a way of uniting nature, culture and heritage in a contemporary setting, creating a sense of belonging and making students and staff feel comfortable in their surroundings.

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