By now, any designer worth his or her salt has heard of biophilia and probably incorporated it into a project somehow. Green walls are all the rage, organic materials like wood and stone are reentering interiors across sectors, and there’s even hard scientific evidence that access to natural light and views can substantially improve a person’s physical and mental health. But biophilia can be a part of a project in subtle, almost imperceptible ways and still have a huge impact on the holistic quality of that space.
Take, for example, Mohawk Group’s latest workplace carpet offering, Relaxing Floors. It won a HiP award at NeoCon 2019 for its novel concept: that naturally occurring fractal patterns, which have been demonstrated to reduce stress, can be incorporated into contract spaces through flooring. The collection was developed by a three-way partnership between Mohawk Group, Martin and Anastasija Lesjak of 13&9 Design, and University of Oregon physicist Richard Taylor, who is a leading expert on fractals.
“Through the years I’d been hoping a designer would find out about me and my work,” says Taylor. “Before our collaboration, my work mostly had an impact on other academics, artists, and astronauts [Taylor’s work was initially funded by NASA] — very small groups of people. So this collaboration really felt like a magical moment.”
“For our third collaboration with Mohawk Group, we wanted to strip back the idea of biophilia, to really get to the heart of what it means,” says Martin. “We were also thinking about budding topics of concern in architecture and design discourse, like urbanization and digitalization. We knew all three of these topics could somehow blend together. Our research naturally led us to Richard’s work.”
Translating Taylor’s dense academic research into a tactile product that could be mass-produced was where the real challenge lied. 13&9 and Taylor employed two of the professor’s PhD students to develop a special software that would create fractal patterns that could then be fed into Mohawk Group’s proprietary machine technology. These patterns would then become the four plank styles in the collection: restD, mellowD, chillD, and Fractal Ground. The D-marker is a term borrowed from Taylor’s research; fractal complexity is measured on a parameter scale labeled D. Mid-complexity fractals are integrated into the design of Relaxing Floors. It’s that same level of complexity that is the most common in natural scenery and what the eye naturally gravitates towards.
“Working on this project, which is completely about what the eye is able to seek out and find on its own, really forced us to rely on our intuition — and our eyes!” says Anastasija. “It was certainly a unique experience. At the end of the day, we had to trust our own instincts to really determine if something felt right and would have the impact we wanted.”
"This collaboration has been an amazing experience," says Jackie Dettmar, VP of commercial product development and design at Mohawk Group. "We've brought together a trans-disciplinary team. We've got science and research, we've got industry-leading design, we've got innovative manufacturing. Bringing this team together has been a dynamic experience and the outcome is a product unlike anything we've ever produced before."
Relaxing Floors also borrows from color psychology. The blue-gray and green-gray color palette allows the fractals to be more obvious to the eye, as well as having an overall calming effect on the brain. Combining this color scheme with the fractal patterns Taylor’s team and 13&9 came up with could provide very real relief for the “stress conditions and illnesses that are on the rise. Our digitized and high-density built environments really need these kinds of patterns,” says Taylor.
Like many products in Mohawk’s portfolio, Relaxing Floors scores high on sustainability standards. It is Living Product Challenge Petal-certified, carbon neutral, and actively gives back to the planet through energy and water-saving manufacturing processes. The collection is manufactured at the company’s Glasgow, Virginia carpet tile plant, which has long been associated with sustainable manufacturing practices.
"At Mohawk Group, we are very passionate about sustainability, how we make our products, and what we deliver to the marketplace," says Dettmar. "We're really pushing the limit on creating sustainable flooring that gives more back to the world than it takes from it."