The effects of biophilic design in interior environments on noise perception: A case study of noise annoyance reduction in a nursing facility

Presented by: Jingfen Guo, Jihyun Song

Issue: Research shows that rapid changes in our societal trend, such as urbanization and modern life style, have resulted in isolation of humans from our experience of nature (Nyrud, Bringslimark and Bysheim, 2013). Kellert and Calabrese proposed the concept of biophilia and biophilic design to promise nature’s benefit on health and well-being by fostering a relationship of humans with the nature (Kellert and Calabrese, 2015). The goal of biophilic design is to create a habitat in the built environment that advances people’s health, fitness and well-being. Biophilic design has become a mainstream within the sustainable design community, leading to an opportunity to study its effects on humans in the built environment. However, studies on the psychological effects of biophilic design are limited and relatively new area of research. Psychological effects of biophilic design on noise perception has been primarily focused on the attributes of natural elements in outdoor areas instead of interiors (Gillis and Gatersleben, 2015). Based on the evidence that sound and noise have a significant influence in the well-being and health of older adults, a need to study the application of biophilic design elements particularly in a nursing facility is assured (Brawley, 1997; Gascon et al., 2015). Therefore, the purpose of this study is twofold. First, this study will investigate the effects of biophilic design criteria on the assessment of perceived loudness and noise annoyance. Secondly, this study will analyze how the visual characteristics of an interior space can influence the subjective loudness and annoyance of noise for older adults. Process and method: A case study method is used to experiment the perception of sound, such as perceived loudness and annoyance in a nursing facility. Virtual scenarios were created and presented to the participants by computer visualization of three-dimensional models on the screen and sound from audio speakers. A controlled simulation was developed to test four different images of dining space with the addition of auditory and biophilic design features (Appendix A). A total of thirty-two residents were recruited from two senior living facilities in Polk county and Story county, Iowa. Participants were ranged from 65 to 90 years old representing both genders. Initial experiments involved a data collection of all participants’ self-report regarding their hearing loss level. The data included demographic information, interview transcript, visual quality evaluation (Appendix B), and sound evaluation (Appendix C). Both visual and sound evaluations used rating scores on 10-point Likert scales. The data were analyzed using content analysis, ANOVA and correlation techniques. Results and Importance of the Topic: The results of the study indicate that biophilic elements have a positive visual impact on interior design. Application of biophilic design features draw people’s attention and generate positive feelings towards the built environment. Due to the limitation of study, there was no statistical significance in the influence of visual setting on sound judgments in the given audiovisual indoor environment. However, data suggests that positively rated interior spaces can lead to a lower perceived loudness and annoyance. Especially biophlic design attributes of window views to nature and indoor plants showed stronger effects on modifying the feeling of annoyance. As a conclusion of the study, a set of new design guidelines were proposed to inform design decisions of designers and administrators responsible for designing environments for older adults in long-term care settings. Based on the proposed design guidelines, redesigning an existing dining space was suggested with design visualizations (Appendix D). Further study will continue to explore the effects of biophlic design attributes on noise annoyance reduction.


  • Nyrud, A.Q., Bringslimark, T. & Bysheim, K. (2014). Benefits from wood interior in a hospital room: A preference study. Architectural Science Review, 57, 125–131.
  • Kellert, S. & Calabrese, E. (2015). The practice of biophilic design. (accessed 10 December 2015).
  • Gillis, K. & Gatersleben, B. (2015). A review of psychological literature on the health and wellbeing benefits of biophilic design. Buildings, 5(3), 948–963.
  • Gascon, M., Triguero-Mas, M., Martínez, D., Dadvand, P., Forns, J., Plasència, A. & Nieuwenhuijsen, M. (2015). Mental health benefits of long-term exposure to residential green and blue spaces: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(4), 4
  • Brawley, E. C. (1997). Designing for Alzheimer’s disease: Strategies for creating better care environments. New York: John Wiley & Sons.