Mabutho Mase is the founder of Bio Landscapes, a small start-up based in Pretoria that focuses on the adoption of biophilic designed landscapes and other elements which connects communities and building occupants with nature, creating more productive and healthier environments.
Hailing from the Eastern Cape, Mabutho was granted an opportunity by Life Landscapes to work in a hospital in Lynwood, Pretoria, as a supervisor to lead a team in preserving and agglomerating the hospital’s environmental challenges. “From this, I started to discern the importance around nature and human beings within a healthcare environment that required the affinity of biophilia. At the time, I was not familiar with biophilic design or what it meant but I experienced the impact that nature had on patients who suffered from varying ailments including mental illness. It assisted them in healing, and the doctors in their working environment,” he tells Property Wheel.
His experience at the hospital led him down the path of furthering his career in becoming a horticulturist facilitator whereby he was involved in research and in training others to lead projects that required maintenance, construction, and hard landscaping which sparked an interest in the entrepreneurial aspect of his field, and he began to explore the possibility of a business that would revolve around the intuitiveness of landscaping.
How has the concept of biophilic design emerged in SA’s property industry, and how can it be defined? What is SA’s stance in adopting biophilia in relation to a global perspective?
“There is a growing interest around the many careers in built design and science with thorough academic research and architectural practices that show that biophilia has emerged in SA. If we look a few years back to the FIFA World Cup in 2010, we can see the effect of green infrastructure and how it boosted the economy. Biophilia has emerged in SA’s property industry – an example would be The Fynbos development in Cape Town. While there are many developments, we are not as consistent as we should be. Many countries involve their governments and the private sector – with full force support – and they have economically and ecologically benefitted from biophilia. We need this here. To be able to live in a well conducive environment is to thrive. It boils down to the definition of what biophilic design is – the method of creating a space that is in perfect harmony with nature and that brings solutions of ways and practices for the environment“.
In what way can biophilic design contribute to the goals of a sustainable built environment?
“During the pandemic, people spent the majority of their time in lockdown. Being in an environment which incorporates biophilia, helped i.e., the effect of sunlight, fresh air, water, and animals. Biophilic design creates a sense of calm under very stressful situations. It’s the architect of serenity and it can heal people. Post-pandemic, everyone resonated with nature which encouraged a more organic approach to health and wellness“.
What are the key design strategies in biophilic design? If a property developer were to research biophilic design, what should they navigate towards?
“Biophilic design can assist in reaching goals of recreating regenerative environments while contributing to a psychological or physical equilibrium. By incorporating natural elements around built design – commercial, retail, office, industrial, residential etc. – this enables or boosts productivity“.
How can property owners incorporate elements of biophilic design to assist in managing office productivity during the energy shortage crisis? What should they avoid?
“Biophilia can assist in minimizing energy use – take sunlight as an example. When designing a building, the inclusion of multiple windows is encouraged. With the ongoing electricity black outs, the use of biophilia can assist in buildings such as libraries that are often thought to be quite dark and dingy. Ventilation is another example, using fresh air instead of air conditioning when it’s not necessary. If we can use natural ventilation, we can use sunlight. Imagine how biophilia can play a part in minimizing the costs of commercial buildings during the energy crisis … We can also incorporate sustainable, green infrastructure such as solar. There are other approaches to this such as green roof infrastructure which assists in limiting the heat entering the building. Commercial building owners want to invite businesses back into their buildings and it has become a challenge with everyone accustomed to working from home. However, once people are gathered in teams, they are able to progress together. The biophilic effect will always look after people’s health. It encourages collaboration between the professions – interior design, architecture, horticulture. In unity, to say that as human beings, we share the same goal of improving health and well-being in order to thrive post-pandemic. The environmental impact will be maximized through the biophilic design approach“.
Is there a specific process that property owners should follow to incorporate biophilia? Is it a costly exercise? Can it be done in phases?
“While biophilic design is not a costly process, it depends on the space you are working with, it is discerning of all the 14 ecological patterns that have direct influence. It can, however, be time consuming. If you were to implement a biophilic approach, the first thing you would need to ensure is the connection with nature within that space. Consult experts in the green infrastructure field, such as Bio Landscapes, who factor in things such as allergies – we look at the client’s character and lifestyle. Biophilia is also about improving lifestyle. We review the space and pinpoint plants that will assist you in enhancing your environment. Biophilia is not only for humans, but it also benefits animals. Biophilic design means ‘The love of life’. Do you require a space to meditate? Do you like colour? What certain sounds do you prefer? i.e., running water. The process incorporates many visual and sensory aspects. We don’t just create a space – we create a space that will have character and longevity – an investment. We look at the specific needs of our clients and how these can be achieved – indoor or outdoor“.
What are your ‘top biophilia tips’ for property owners who may not know where or how to start?
“There have many attempts to simplify this. I suggest looking at elements that really appeal to you. What comes to mind – colours? Or are you more sensory? Do you prefer sound over visual elements? Do you prefer touch? – we can see, smell, and feel water. Biomorphic design is also considered under biophilic design i.e., natural analogies, the natural materials and complexities surrounding your space. Visit a nursery with someone who has experience in these areas.”
Coming from a rural background, where most rely on agriculture, Mabutho hopes his experience and knowledge will assist communities and more formal environments such as businesses. “I have been diversely involved in environmental awareness and community facilitation by offering ornamental plants to small scale farmers as well as being involved in then construction space with property developers such as Eastern Cape Khula Nathi Construction (Pty) Ltd, a division of SKG Properties, where I was tasked with research, preserving and maintaining the environment, and passing on horticultural skills to the local occupants”.
“As Bio Landscapes, we would love to partner with businesses through their Corporate Social Investment (CSI) or Enterprise Development (ED) programs via a partnership support model of some kind. We are passionate about sustainable development which requires environmental knowledge to ensure that we are not alienated from our natural environment. Instead, we should be encouraged through awareness and the promotion of preserving our environment“.
If you would like to partner with Bio Landscapes, you can contact Mabutho via email: email@example.com or on 076 141 9607.