What is Biophilic Design?


What is Biophilic Design?

Designing a workspace in a way that connects to the natural environment is known as biophilic design. The concept of biophilic design includes the use of indirect and direct nature as well as place and space conditions.

The name biophilic is relatively new. However, the idea of connecting buildings to their surrounding environments in a natural way has been noted in architecture dating back as far as the building of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Today, biophilic design is used at the scale of buildings and entire cities in many different types of environments.

The idea of biophilic design continues to proliferate in architecture circles because of its proven benefits to the health, economy and environment of its users.


The Beginning of the Biophilic Idea

Modern biophilic design can be said to have its roots in the biophilia hypothesis. This is an idea that is defined by seminal theoretical biologist Edward O. Wilson as the human instinct to focus on life and processes that imitate life. The hypothesis is based on the idea that humans focus on life and its ancillary doppelgangers as a technique of survival. In higher forms of thinking, human beings also focus on these processes as a means of personal fulfillment. For instance, enjoying oneself in a nature preserve is a form of the biophilic hypothesis at work. Owning a pet or buying a house that stands close to a waterfront are also forms of this hypothesis.


The Kellert Principles

Stephen Kellert is known as a father of biophilic design because of his widely accepted principles and framework around the idea. Below is a short summary of his biophilic framework.

The Direct Experience of Nature

The direct experience of nature designs that have quantifiable contact with common features of nature such as light, air, water, plants, animals and natural landscapes. Contact with these features usually corresponds with a heightened sense of space and connectivity within the environment.

The Indirect Experience of Nature

The indirect experience of nature speaks of a design coming into contact with representations and images of nature. These may include pure images such as photographs or professional paintings; natural materials or colors placed within the building design; natural air and light simulations; simulations of natural shapes within the design of a building; “information richness”; biomimicry; natural geometries; invoking natural changes within the Patina of Time and otherwise evoking nature in a project’s structural design.

The Experience of Space and Place

Biophilic design can also enhance well being through the spatial relationships between a design and its surrounding environment. The concepts that are used to flesh out this idea include Cultural and Ecological Attachment to Place; Mobility; Transitional Spaces, Integration of PArts, Organized Complexity and Prospect and Refuge. It is the job of the building architect to understand which of these concepts is the best fit for a project or landscape because each of them is usually meant to be experienced and considered individually.


Bringing Biophilic Design to a Municipal Scale

Timothy Beatley, an internationally recognized municipal planner, and green urbanism author, is an important voice in scaling the idea of biophilic design from buildings to entire cities. Beatley believes that the primary objective of biophilic municipalities is to cater to the residents of the location so that they choose to actively participate in maintaining the biophilic nature of the landscape.

In keeping with this idea, Beatley designed a framework of ideas to help architects build cities around the biophilic notion. The dimensions forming his framework include Biophilic Institutions and Governance; Biophilic Attitudes and Knowledge; Biophilic Activities and Biophilic Conditions and Infrastructure.


The Benefits of Biophilic Design

On all scales, biophilic design has been shown to have certain benefits for environments as well as building occupants. Below are just a few of the benefits that are considered most relevant.

  • Health benefits – Medical professionals have found that biophilic elements in an environment may speed up recovery in mental health cases and in cases of physiological stress. For instance, a study conducted by Catherine Ryan, et al. found that aromatherapy use on post-surgical patients reduced the need for morphine and other painkillers by 45% and 56%, respectively. Other studies have found that simply having plants indoors increases pain tolerance and improves stress resistance in patients. It has been found that the presence of water also helps in restoring mental health. Simply putting patients in outdoor facilities helped them increase physical activity, reduce depression, build social capital and even avoid conditions like asthma and infant mortality rates.
  • Environmental benefits – It can be argued that building up the environment with biophilic principles allows for better management of potentially destructive environmental elements such as stormwater runoff. Biophilic designs can even turn these elements around to be helpful to the environment, as in the case that excess greywater is utilized to water greenery. Building vegetative walls also help to reduce the instance of polluted water in an environment; plants are natural biofilters. Building these “walls” with enough durability can even reduce carbon emissions and the temperature of an environment.
  • Economic benefits – Although the initial implementation of biophilic elements has an upfront cost, these costs are more than negated through the environmental and health benefits mentioned above. There are also direct benefits. Experts predict that New York City could save up to $470 million by implementing biophilic designs. Surprisingly, incorporating biophilic design could also reduce the expense of crime in the city by a whopping $1.7 billion.
  • Municipal resilience and sustainability – Beatley has stated that biophilic design helps cities better withstand municipal stressors, especially climate changes. His ideas are beginning to be used in building designs and recognized by watchdog organizations such as the Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Standard.


Biophilia vs Biophobia

Just as biophilia exists, so too does the idea of biophobia. The suffix -phobia refers to a fear of something, so biophobia generally means a human’s fear of animals and nature, especially a fear that is inherited in some way.

Contact Aura Office Environments and speak with our design specialists on bringing a little more nature to the scene for your next office redesign!

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