Biophilic Design — with Geila Daughtrey of Rockett Studio
In the third episode of my Biophilic Design Series I chat with
Geila Daughtrey, the Founder and Creative Director
at Rockett Studio in Singapore
Have a Listen Above (~20 min) or Read the Partial Transcript of Episode Three:
Intro: Hello, Joanna Lentini here. Welcome to the third episode of my Biophilic Design series, where I chat with interior designers and architects about the importance and art of bringing the outdoors in.
This is a passion project of mine.
I have been fascinated with the natural world since a young age. When I first came across Biophilic Design I was immediately excited and spent a lot of time researching it.
As a nature photographer, I strive to bring the outdoors in through my fine art photographs, but there are so many more ways we can do so. And so, I'd like to share with you what I have learned about biophilic design along with the perspectives of those in the design industry.
So Biophilic design is all about designing nature back into the built environment. The term Biophilia was first coined by Erick Fromm as a passionate love of life and all that is alive. It is the wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, an idea or a social group. And later it was expanded on in the 1970s by Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson as the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate meaning it's hereditary and ultimately part of human nature.
While Biophilic Design complements Green Design, it is it's own concept. Green design focuses on improving the sustainability of a building or home. It looks at how a structure uses its resources, while Biophilic Design focuses on the well-being of its occupants through the inclusion of natural elements, some of which can actually improve the green design of a building.
We are already spending roughly 90% of our time indoors these days and are more stressed than ever. According to the World Health Organization, our stress has increased as we have become more urbanized, and it's actually considered to be a health epidemic responsible for a significant amount of costs.
It's been well documented that we respond better to stress in a natural environment, hence the need for design that responds to our human needs. By the middle of the century, we could see 66% of the developed world living in urban areas and more disconnected from nature than ever before.
As someone who spends a lot of time in nature, I can tell you I feel the negative effects of having to be indoors from anxiety, depression and issues with focusing. I hope through this series we can both learn and implement a few things into our day to day spaces and become happier and healthier in the process...
So let's get started with my third guest, Geila Daughtrey, the Founder of Rockett Studio in Singapore...
JL: Hi Geila, welcome. It’s so great of you to take a few minutes to chat with me about Biophilic Design. It’s a fascinating topic and I really appreciate your input on the subject.
So, Geila and I met almost a decade ago in Singapore. Geila’s husband, Ed, worked with my husband John at Credit Suisse, and Geila and Ed helped in making us feel very much at home in Singapore. During our time there, Geila was transitioning from working for someone else to going off on her own to create Rockett, which is now an award-winning design studio.
So much has happened since my husband and I left Singapore. Geila went on to be recognized for her outstanding contribution to the interior design industry by Hong Kong’s premier architecture and design magazine, Perspective, and she was awarded Gold at the Singapore Design Awards, which honours outstanding designers from across the world, and is considered the leading design award in Southeast Asia.
Many congrats on all of your successes, Geila. You’ve been busy!
So to kick things off, would you mind sharing with listeners what led you into interior design, some of the types of clients you work with, and how has it been operating during a pandemic?
GD: First of all, thank you for having me!
I actually started out doing set design for feature films after studying Interior design at university, but after a few years in film I began to realise that I really missed the ‘problem solving’ side of interior design and how people use a space and feel in a space.
By that I mean designing a space so that it functions well, rather than just being concerned with how a space looks - or for the camera. So eventually I made the decision to switch back to designing ‘real’ interiors.
I started Rockett 6 years ago now, and we focus on commercial projects. We specialise in designing restaurants, which I love, as they require a lot of problem solving! We are essentially designing a working machine - there are a lot of moving parts.
But with our focus being on the F&B industry, our business has been hit this year - which has been stressful. I really feel for restaurant owners and the hospitality industry in general right now. But I am hopeful all this will pass.
JL: I can imagine it’s been stressful when the majority of your clients are restaurants. I recently started reminiscing about some of my favorite restaurants in Singapore, and got to wondering how they were doing. And so I went to Instagram and looked up a few of them, but one in particular that I was really worried about, is P.S. Cafe — surely we have been there together, no?
It was definitely my favorite restaurant in Singapore. It had this way of making you feel like you were in this elegant, yet wild space. The number of massive plant and flower arrangements they had were like eye candy to me. And I loved their use of fresh herbs in the cocktails that they made. Those things always put a smile on my face, and of course the delicious food. And I spent quite a bit of time there because the space made me feel happy.
I'm wondering how have restaurants adapted to this new normal? With the pretty steady climate I’d imagine many have shifted to outdoor seating, yes?
GD: The better eateries are killing it right now! There have of course sadly been casualties, but Singapore is a foodie nation as you know (we apparently have more restaurants than New York City) and there has been a strong community spirit to help out the independent restaurants - from mom-and-pop-owned local street food stalls, to Michelin starred fine dining restaurants.
When our Circuit Breaker (what Singaporeans are calling the pandemic lockdown) measures came into place and dining in was restricted, a community page was quickly set up on facebook to connect independent restaurants with independent drivers with little work, so that people could order takeaways directly and avoid paying the significant platform fees many of the food delivery platforms charge.
This also meant restaurants were able to deliver island wide for the first time (the food delivery platforms stick to local to minimise travel costs and times), which opened up a customer base they hadn’t had access to before.
We still have restrictions in place now that restaurants are open again - seating spread out and early-closing times etc - but many of our clients are finding business is good - people seem to be spending similar to how they were pre-covid, but just in a shorter amount of time - they are trying to cram in the same amount of ‘fun’ before they are kicked out and sent home at 10pm!
Singaporeans and expats love to travel too, and as we are still unable to, people seem to be spending that travel money on eating out….
We are just waiting for that spending to trickle down into new investments! Whilst existing restaurants are doing well, I think the overall industry is still a little nervous to invest in new projects at the moment….
JL: That’s totally understandable in such uncertain times. So, as you probably know, Biophilic Design has been labelled by some as one of the hottest new trends in design. I’m not one for trends, and do hope this concept has some longevity, because the research is there.
The whole concept of Biophilic Design is to bring the outdoors in, right. Because as a species we are happier and highly productive in spaces that evoke similar feelings we have when in nature.
I feel like Singapore is already ahead of the curve, in fact maybe even setting the standard when it comes to biophilic urbanism. The city boasts this beautiful balance between nature and civilization that the rest of the world should try to emulate. I know much of the built environment is quite green in terms of sustainability, but can you talk to me about how you work with clients to bring the outdoors in, and how much of a demand there is for it?
GD: I love singapore for that very reason. You can be in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District) and still see greenery - even wildlife! And it's really cool that the long term vision for singapore is for it to grow from a ‘garden city’ into ‘a city within a garden’.
Urban farming is getting very popular here, and many of our restaurant clients are wanting live ‘green walls’ within their restaurants, so that they can harvest salad leaves and herbs etc for their dishes.
We are currently working on a members club and our client is really keen to utilize their roof top for a vegetable garden which we are excited about. We have even convinced them to incorporate beehives - fingers crossed!
JL: That's super exciting! I remember I had my very first garden while living in Singapore. The complex we lived in rented out garden plots and while I really loved it, it was short lived once I found out they were spraying for mozzies, but I just moved what I could to the balcony, which made it much more accessible and observable. I also remember around that same time, I made my very first terrarium over in Hort Park. I was definitely inspired by the lush, green landscape of Singapore. And it was really the first time I started to consciously try to bring nature in.
I also remember the first time I came across a restaurant growing its own food was in the Maldives. I had been invited out to the Six Senses Resort for some talks on underwater photography and as I was bicycling around the small island I rode past the raised garden beds. The Six Senses Resorts are all about sustainability, and that was just one exciting example of their commitment.
How important do you think it is that we encourage people to incorporate elements from the natural world into their indoor spaces, and what are some of the different elements of biophilic design that you really like to work with?
GD: That's very cool - I didn't know you had attempted your own balcony garden here! I’d love to try that, only we don’t have a balcony! (You can even get government grants to do that now too).
We live right opposite the Botanical Gardens - so I may not have a balcony, but I do feel like I have a huge back garden! I try to go every day — it's my chance to reset.
I think it's really important people incorporate elements from the natural world into their indoor spaces, especially now we are all at home more. It can reduce stress, enhance creativity, and improve our general well-being. It can even improve healing - patients in hospital are said to have a fast recovery if they can see trees from their window.
But as you know it’s not just about adding plants to your home - it's about enhancing your space through the use of materials, textures, sound, lighting, even scent too create a sense of calm and ease. Of course plants help, but you can also enhance your space with water features and natural air-flow or breezes. Artworks or photography depicting nature can also help.
Natural materials can be expensive, and ultimately our clients are running a business so we have to be mindful of their bottom line, but we always encourage the use of natural sustainable materials wherever possible - at the very least, to always use them on the touch points that a guest interacts with - things like the door handles on the main entrance for example. That first physical interaction with a brand can subconsciously set the expectations for the entire experience they are about to have.
So it’s really important.
JL: I can totally appreciate staying within budget... from what I have researched though introducing biophilic elements can greatly reduce costs in the long run. From less employees calling out sick, to calmer customers perhaps waiting for a table to name a couple.
In fact I just came across a three month study of a hospital waiting room, which showed that those spaces with nature images show a significant reduction in restless behavior, more socialization occurs, and ironically it also helps reduce noise levels.
So while many of us are still working from home, and are in desperate need of more productive and inspiring spaces might you have any advice for someone who is interested in bringing a bit of nature into their home or work space? Where might they begin besides the more obvious elements like plants?
GD: Let as much natural light in and get those windows open! You really can’t beat fresh air. If that's not possible then scent can have a big impact - fresh cut flowers or even a natural candle with a natural wood or alpine smell can really help. Or sprigs of fresh greenery.
We always try to encourage our clients to include feature floral displays in our restaurants. As you mentioned earlier, PS Cafe in Singapore does this so well! It’s worth a visit to one of their restaurants just to see the flowers!
Try to use natural sustainable fabrics like flax linens and hemp - that's another good one. They can bring in a lovely soft, relaxed and natural look. And they just get better with age.
Living in Asia, I have become fascinated by the similarities between biophilic design and the ancient practice of Feng Shui - Both schools of thought understand the benefits of connecting with nature, and how natural ecosystems can benefit our wellbeing and mental health.
Many of their practices overlap - and they have the same goal - they just use different language to describe their processes, methods and outcomes.
JL: Ah, yes, there are many similarities to Feng Shui. In fact, my husband pointed that out to me when I first started exploring Biophilic Design.
Okay, so I have one last question for you...what, if anything in the natural world inspires you?
GD: As I mentioned I have to get out into nature everyday. Be that in the pristine Botanical Gardens or somewhere a little more rugged like one of Singapore’s Nature Reserves. I’ll jog, walk, do yoga or meditate, but I feel ‘out of sorts’ if I don't do it daily - even if it's just for 10 minutes.
It's funny because I intentionally go to get away from work and clear my mind, but it's always where I ended up being my most creative and I'll come back full of ideas.
Interestly all this face-mask-wearing has made me realise that I never paid any attention to the smells of the vegetation before on my walks. I completely took it for granted. Now I try to make a point of noticing everything (when no one is around and I can take my mask off that is!).
I also really love the sound of english summer bird song! Seriously you can't beat it. I'll quite often play you-tube videos in the office as background music when I am super stressed or feeling a little homesick. Try it!
JL: Ah, I love that! I sometimes take the sounds of birds for granted living in the countryside. But it is amazing how much sound really impacts our well-being. My partner always tells me I have spidey senses, particularly when it comes to noise. And one thing that really impacts me living on a lake is the constant boat traffic during the warmer months.
It definitely affects me more than the average person. And I do have a bit of ADHD, but I remember reading something somewhere that if you are in the middle of reading or writing something, and there is an unpleasant noise distraction, your productivity drops by something like 65%!
Well, I think we are just about out of time…. thank you so much for chatting with me about Biophilic Design — it’s been fun. I really appreciate your input on the topic.
For anyone interested in learning more about Rockett Studio please check out their website at www.rockett.com.sg or reach out to Geila Daughtrey directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And be sure to follow Rockett Studio on Instagram.