Metro Tunnel to lead the way in nature-friendliness

04 December 2017

With the help of Deakin researchers and the concept of ‘biophilia,’ Melbourne’s five new Metro Tunnel stations will achieve a refreshing level of human-friendliness.

The sound of water, biomorphic patterns, mystery, greenery and varying temperatures and airflows at the railway stations may be some of the elements considered to help make Melbourne’s new Metro Tunnel one of the world’s most innovative underground rail systems.

Deakin University researchers Dr Phillip Roös, Professor David Jones, and Mr Josh Zeunert – in association with Dr Paul Downton of Ecopolis – have worked with the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority to develop an international best practice biophilic design benchmark study, to inform detailed station designs and possibly create Australia’s first public underground railway stations based on “biophilic” design principles.

The resulting “Creating Healthy Places” report recommends 15 patterns of biophilic design that are rooted in the philosophy of Biophilia. Biophilic Design is a ground-breaking method that takes green architecture far beyond landscaping, water tanks or solar panels.

The design approach is a labour of love for Dr Phillip Roös, a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Deakin, who describes biophilia as humans’ natural affinity with living things and the enhancement of our sensory experiences.

Dr Roös initiated and led a team that wrote the first Green Star Rating Tool for railway stations in Victoria several years ago and is currently working with the Green Building Council of Australia and the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority on an Australian-first national green star rating tool for above-and below-ground railway stations. He was Principal Technical Advisor for Sustainability and Climate Change to the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority when its Metro Tunnel Project was put out to tender, and championed the innovative approach of biophilic design to the railway stations’ design.

“Australia has been doing rail the same for more than 50 years, but with this project we wanted to look not just beyond standard practice, but beyond standard sustainability practice too,” he said.

Professor David Jones, Foundation Professor for Planning and Landscape Architecture Programs (PUDLA) at the School of Architecture and Built Environment, said that this research “aims to develop a centre of excellence in biophilic design and planning, focused on applied research that sets new international benchmarks for biophilia studies, and the opportunity that the Metro Tunnel provided supports this vision”.

“This is the first time in Australia where biophilic designs are influencing railway station architecture and the surrounding urban design and precinct planning,” said Professor Jones.

“Many people don’t realise that railway stations are at the core of cities and provide the opportunity to create better public places that can support health and wellbeing for city dwellers.”

Dr Roös noted that biophilic design acknowledges that any built environment is intruding on a natural environment and should therefore “emulate nature as much as possible”.

“This isn’t just about low-impact features like green spaces or water recycling. It is also recognising that humans are drawn to the patterns inherent in living things, so if we can create something that follows these rules of nature, humans will benefit, as well as the planet,” Dr Roös said.

Stressing the importance of the functions of our planet and its natural systems, Mr Josh Zeunert noted that a closer connection to nature will improve our health and wellbeing.

“By connecting us with nature, we believe biophilic design can reduce stress, improve well-being, help us to think more clearly and even assist with self-healing,” Mr Zuenert said.

While Dr Roös is aware the concept may seem a little “out there” to some, he and the research team have developed many years of research to ground these principles of human and environmental relationships.

“To make sure this is legitimate in a large and complex project like the Metro Tunnel, we needed an expert assessment of how biophilic design works, how it gets applied to the built environment, and, more specifically, how this can be applied to a metro project,” Dr Roös said.

The “Creating Healthy Places” report by the Deakin team was used by Dr Roös to develop and write biophilic design guidelines for the five underground stations being constructed as part of the Metro Tunnel Project.

Using the recommendations of 15 patterns of biophilic design in the “Creating Healthy Places” study, the guidelines are informing architects, urban designers, landscape architects and engineers in developing their detailed station designs and public realm plans.

These include aspects like visual connection to nature, presence of water, variability in airflow, dynamic light, geometric patterns inspired by nature, and creating places of refuge or mystery.

Dr Paul Downton said transport design was a perfect opportunity to incorporate biophilic principles, especially where such a major project shapes the future of a city, and the opportunity is there to support a vision such as the EcoCity concept for the City of Melbourne.

“In many ways, public transit lays a foundation for more time spent outside, more walking, and more opportunity to be in and enjoy the public realm, supporting the important human-nature connection fundamental for EcoCities,” said Dr Downton.

“But transit stations, and the spaces around them, can be profoundly more nature-ful, from interior living walls and natural daylight, to the trees, shrubs, gardens, and water elements that might be included in the design

“A recent study found that perceived waiting times at bus stations were lower when there were trees and greenery around them. Nature has the power to ease city stresses.

“So can we go so far as to re-imagine the very nature of a Melbourne train trip? Rather than being stressful, they could become an opportunity to enjoy a bit of nature-connection or a chance to enjoy the natural world.”

Dr Roös reiterates that biophilia qualities are important for liveable cities. “These qualities are ever-more important, as the world population continues to urbanise, but they are also essential ingredients in a ‘Liveable City’”.

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By Deakin Research

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From left: Professor David Jones, Dr Phillip Roös, Dr Paul Downton and Mr Josh Zeunert.

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From left: Professor David Jones, Dr Phillip Roös, Dr Paul Downton and Mr Josh Zeunert.

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