Q&A with Jill Prink
As the Lead Creative Designer for Horticultural Creations, Jill Prink brings 20-plus years of experience to the table, integrating biophilic design to shape spaces for connection, performance, and overall well-being for clients such as Estee Lauder, VitaCoco, Warner Music Group, and others. She is known for combining a keen understanding of the client’s needs/wants with leading-edge innovation and a thoughtful approach to regenerative design focused on social and ecological well-being.
Jill recently sat down to answer some questions about biophilic design in general and how she utilizes these principles to create delightful and thoughtful spaces for our clients.
Can you give us a quick overview on biophilic design? What are the guiding principles behind it, and what are the advantages of using it in home, offices, or hospitality areas?
JILL: Biophilic design is basically bringing nature [into a project]—whatever we see from outside, including plants, trees, and so on—but it can be anything in nature, bringing in elements of wood, of water, not just plants, per se. There are many good reasons for adding biophilic elements to a space. Plants help clean and purify the air by removing toxins and pollutants. They can improve mental health and reduce anxiety. There are numerous studies that show people are generally happier with plants around. They can also improve employee productivity by as much as 15 percent.
What are some interesting ways you’ve integrated biophilic design into spaces for your clients?
JILL: For interior spaces, selection is one major thing. I’m always trying to discover new plants that we have available in New York, or can get to New York, plants that come from all over the world, choosing different varieties of plants. Green walls can go in different spaces…we can put them on ceilings, for instance; they don’t just have to be walls. We’re always trying to push the envelope of creativity of finding things that maybe haven’t been done before that can work within a client’s needs of their own environment. For exterior spaces—green roofs are a newer market in New York compared to Europe or even areas in South America…we’re starting to utilize more terraces and rooftops in New York City and being able to not only create efficiency for rainwater run-off and help with that, but also help in cooling buildings. We’re seeing a lot more LEED buildings that are going with this trend.
And within green roofs, there may be other constraints or requirements. Sometimes they can’t have people on the roof, but they do want a green roof, and it has to be very light weight, so we have to create a light, soft medium that will grow and require little water. Or perhaps they they engineered the roof to host parties and large office events, and they want something more extensive like trees, etc. Then, we’re still working with the elements of New York. We’ve got wind, we’ve got a lot of other elements that you don’t have when you’re at street level versus up on a roof. So we’re finding new materials, new plants that will thrive and work up there. Our main priority is finding sustainable plants that will work within the space for longevity and for environmental concerns.
What considerations do you take into account when designing a space for a client? What questions do you ask the customer to find out what they want and create a space to suit their needs and goals?
JILL: The first step is understanding what the space is going to be used for and understanding any spatial planning. Are there tons of people coming through the middle? Is there space that we can work with that wouldn’t interfere with any clientele or their employees coming through the space, and so on? Then once we understand that, then we’ll figure out where focal points are, what your first appearance would be, if they are creating or adding any additional furniture, sculptures or pieces within the area, understanding that, so it can all cohesively flow together with anything that we’re designing, particularly with colors, understanding the color theory of the space, so we can pick out the best planters, the best lighting or fixtures, the colors of the plants, which colors of plants or flowers are going to work within that space to have the impactful look.
Then after that, we can go into prioritizing for the clients that balance between function and sustainability, which types of plants are going to be the happiest in that setting. For example, they might be trying to get a 20-foot tree into a space that has no light, so we might be incorporating more artificial lighting if there are no natural elements like that, just so whatever we’re creating is going to be able to be maintained and thrive. From there, we’ll go understanding their budget, understanding the balance between what they’re willing to spend and what we can do within that budget.
Can you give us a little background as to how you ended up in this profession, and with biophilic design becoming more of a thing, what career advice would you give someone who wants to get into this type of work?
JILL: I started with this company right out of college…really, I didn’t know something like this was an actual job. I grew up in Connecticut, and working in the garden was just part of my summertime fun. So when I came upon this company, I ended up starting work, and I started wanting to study it more, so I eventually started getting more certifications and understanding how caring for plants works in the city as opposed to the countryside.
Nowadays, there are many more classes and certifications—things like urban planning and landscaping, not just agriculture. But for someone just wanting to start out, before taking classes, I’d suggest looking for a summer internship in a nursery to understand how the plants work in their environments, and to get a feel for that first. The schools don’t necessarily teach you about the plants—it’s more about the design and the layers and planning. Building a good base of knowledge about the biophilia that is available can come from doing one of those internships.