Biophilia In Design: An Interview With Architect Anthony Laney

By Linsey Stonchus

Wellness has been top-of-mind for the affluent consumer during the past few years and has been further emphasized after 2020. The incorporation of nature within the home through biophilic design, in particular, has been popularized for its positive physical and emotional benefits.

In our piece “Nature and Home: Biophilia in Design,” featured in Luxury Portfolio magazine, five exceptional designers and architects provided their thoughts on biophilia, along with their fascinating projects.

Anthony Laney, Founding Partner at Laney LA, created a mesmerizing “Disappearing Pool,” allowing a backyard short on space in a highly populated area to have multiple uses, ranging from sports court to dance floor, splash pad to swimming pool. Within the following extended interview, Laney expands on the unique project and his take on biophilic design.

1. Why do you think biophilia is having a big moment right now?

It’s having a big moment now because the science is catching up. The data we now have confirms what we’ve always known intuitively – that being in a garden is a special experience. No one has to prove that – and now there’s scientific data that’s actually proving why that is and why that triggers certain responses in the brain.

2. What are your favorite incorporations of biophilia in the home (design, amenities, etc.)?

One of my personal favorites is so simple, but still feels radical – bringing a mature tree very literally into the center of the home. We’ve done that by bringing a 16-tree inside the home, inside the conditioned space. To do this, we needed to acclimate the tree to the home, we needed to have large operable skylights and give it room to grow.

In other homes, we created a series of courtyards, which bring ventilation, natural light, or the soft rustle of a tree leaf into the experience across multiple areas.

A few additional features include water features and reflecting pools for cooling, sound, and humidity. And then, of course, it’s so ubiquitous by now – the disappearing doors that really do connect balconies and patios to living rooms and dining rooms, I just feel like that those are those are timeless ways to improve the way we live.

3. What trends stand out to you when thinking about indoor/outdoor living?

The disappearing, pocketing, sliding doors have been around a long time and everyone on my team is a big fan of that, but in terms of where I see design evolving and client taste maturing is It’s not just about making a wall disappear, it’s about creating a true outdoor room.

We do a lot of homes right on beach of the Pacific Ocean, and you see a lot of these balconies where it’s just a foot of space with a glass guardrail. Nobody’s hanging out on them. In my theory, that’s because it’s not a true outdoor room — it’s just a dead-end balcony.”

So when we create outdoor spaces, we consider the components that make up an interior space and think about how to incorporate those on the outside. At that point, the disappearing pocketing doors become the seamless link between a room and an outdoor room, which activates the space in an exciting way.

The other, I think trend that I’ve seen is that everyone understands the power of a distant view to the horizon, like the ocean, the beach, the mountaintop, the peninsula, but I feel like clients are starting to now understand the power of the inward views, the small views, the short focal length where you might only be looking across your own property over a pool to a beautiful specimen tree. It may only be a 35-foot view and it’s private, It’s in that variety of views, both long and short, that I think we can create something special.

4. How do you think this will evolve over the next few years?

I feel like with all that happened in 2020, health is and deserves to be the number one theme in design. Bringing nature into the home or the hospital or the work environment,  promotes a healthier lifestyle.

Many of our projects are an attempt to create a space that is simultaneously provocative but also quiet and calm, and nature is just an incredible vehicle for accomplishing that.

A bird’s-eye view of the disappearing pool.
5. How did the disappearing pool come about?

Like many of our projects, the disappearing pool was a massive team effort. It was a collaboration between the construction team and our very adventurous and innovative young client. We used a technology called the AKVO Spirallift, which motorized the floor of the pool.

At the press of a button, the floor of the pool can go down and extend its depth. Alternatively, it can come up for playing sports, come up even higher to transform into a splash pad, or it can level with the pool deck and become a dry dance floor.

Every surface is clad in porcelain and when the pool is raised, it’s seamless. Everyone always asks, “where does the water go?” The water stays in the vessel below the slab of floor that lifts.

It’s an extreme space saver because you can have and helps assuage a lot of our parents’ concerns about safety. Press a button and the pool is impenetrable.

6. Do you think we’ll see more multi-purpose outdoor spaces, similar to your disappearing pool in the coming years, particularly in highly populated areas with less space?

Our motivation for the disappearing pool was highly influenced by our need to save space and have both a yard and a pool. I also think that flexibility and adaptability in general are growing increasingly relevant. I think that adaptability is growing increasingly relevant. The dining room is now the office. Spaces no longer have a stationary nametag — they need to perform multiple uses. It’s wonderful that our clients in the design community are starting to realize that in a stronger way.

For more on biophilic design, view the latest issue of Luxury Portfolio magazine and check back every Tuesday through April for more extended interviews.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for better readability.