Nurturing Animal Care With Nature

August 14, 2015

Natural Lighting

If veterinary medicine is to rise to a higher level of appreciation and service, architects are also obligated to improve upon its associated facility design. This only becomes possible by removing the closed character of the rooms and spaces that constitute a veterinary hospital design and by introducing biophilic animal care design.

Through the development of lighting and other building technologies, architects and designers have gained greater control of the immediate environment. However, in many cases, people have become more isolated from the natural environment through a reliance on artificial lighting. When light hits the retina of the eye, electrical impulses are generated and carried along the optic nerve to the brain, where these impulses are converted into visual information. As a result, the brain is under constant stress from harsh lighting conditions and the environment. In this way, LED and fluorescent lighting can have dramatic effects on the brain in processing visual information for both people and animals alike. Fluorescent lights are gas-filled tubes. The item responsible for lighting the gas is called a ballast, which sends pulses of electricity that excites the gas to emit light. The rate — or flicker — of these pulses is quite high and not noticeable to the naked eye. However, the optic nerve responds to it, such that some people possess a sensitivity to this flicker. Those who are affected often suffer from headaches, migraines, eye strain, and eye discomfort. The use of natural light serves to offset the flicker under daytime use. Therefore, natural lighting should be used as often and as much as possible for its biophilic attributes, superior quality, and energy-saving potential. Over the course of time, technology has significantly improved natural daylighting systems such as clerestory windows, curtain walls, storefront window walls, and skylights. These systems are becoming more popular with the notion of biophilic animal care design as applied to better health, energy savings, and spatial ambiance.

clerestory windows as an example of biophilic animal care design

Clerestory windows provide light without distractions of an unsightly view or compromising privacy because they are installed above eye level. During daytime operations, clerestory windows promote minimal use of electricity by incorporating natural light into a space. High clerestory windows used in concert with storefront windows create a sense of openness, perceptually allowing the outdoors to become part of the interior space to be enjoyed.

With the proper type of glazing, storefront windows are an excellent way of delivering biophilic animal care design to both boarding and ward areas in a hospital as well as a means of a sensory stimulus.


Color can be used as a powerful design tool, expressing a range of emotions. It can instill a sense of calmness, well-being, or happiness. Color can be employed to pronounce a particular point of view or to explore a particular mood or feeling.

Nurturing Animal Care With Nature

Simply looking at nature’s offerings can aid each individual client in selecting a suitable color palette for their veterinary hospital. Nature already provides us with wonderful fractal biophilic color palettes.

Textures or patterns are used architecturally to convey either the way a three-dimensional work actually feels when touched or the visual “feel” of a surface in two dimensions. From the sea shells on the beach to the spiral galaxies in the beyond, color and patterns of nature are all around us. Fractals patterns in nature are formed from chaotic equations containing repeating patterns of complexity and magnitude. Fractals are a natural wonder: iterative, recursive, and seemingly infinite. The fern, an especially good example, is one of many flora that are fractal. The colors and patterns found in rock formations, plants, foliage, and in animals are fractal in nature.

From the fractals found in nature, artists have created some incredible renderings and textile patterns as well. High-performance textiles for seating that boast extreme stain, tear, moisture, and microbial resistance come in a wide variety of fractal-inspired colors, textures, and patterns. This type of fabric, which utilizes a special weaving process that is impervious to urine, is sensational for veterinary hospital seating.

The use of various wood grains, patterns, and warm earth-tone colors create a sense of biophilic friendliness and comfort. Life’s sculptures also enhance and provide a sense of identity, place, charm, and sophistication. Using a palette of natural textures, colors, patterns, and images of nature serves as a biophilic reminder.

Think about the qualities of architecture that inspire. What is it that feels uplifting when walking into a space? What causes a sense of awe? Truly, it is not the architecture itself that inspires us; rather, it is almost always the light of a particular space. To look up at skylights and to notice patterns and reflections of light on walls and floors is biophilic. The true art and meaning of architecture is, in essence, the ability to work with light.

Nurturing Animal Care With Nature

Textures, patterns, and spatial articulation such as you see here in this exam room vestibule are used intentionally to elicit the client’s sensory experiences. For one, the use of inviting textures and patterns is a conduit for interaction between clients and staff. The use of reed glass also creates unique patterns of light and fractal imagery. Utilizing differentiating textures and patterns combined with interesting lighting can create meaningful effects, giving a veterinary hospital a true sense of place.

The most common misconception people have about the relationship between architecture and nature is that architecture somehow needs to be submissive to nature, i.e. a building should completely blend with its surrounding natural environment. Conversely, a structure should express respect for nature but be allowed to stand in subtle contrast to its natural setting.

Architecture by itself is a sensory experience. Its design should embrace colors, textures, and patterns that complement its surrounding environment, yet both its exterior form as well as interiors should provide for discovery among its inhabitants. Nature has always been and always will be an important inspiration to architects, so architecture should express a respect for nature. Using nature’s patterns and textures in harmony with light and space achieves balance and warmth.


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