Biophilic Design – Designing For Life

Creating rich and healthy environments for people through the inspiration of natural settings.

For decades, Biophilic Design has been talked about, utilized, misunderstood, and changing the lives of patients, students, employees, and families around the world when their new, man made, built natural environment adopts a Biophilic mindset. Biophilic Design bridges the gap between our innate desire to engage with nature and the built habitats we now call our homes, offices, hospitals, and schools.
While some building guides are used to enhance natural impact such as LEED, they focus more on conservation. Biophilic Design focuses on using nature as the design.

What is Biophilic Design?

In short, Biophilic Design has a focus on transforming the designs of built environments where we often engage such as offices, schools, healthcare facilities, and home, in an attempt to translate inspirations, features, and qualities of natural settings.

Today, our natural settings ,where we spend almost all of our time, is a built environment. Biophilic design is geared towards satisfying our need to affiliate with nature within these engineered spaces.
The modern cities we’ve built, live in, work in, both degrade the environment and remove us from nature. People have an inherent desire to connect with nature due to we as people having developed in a largely natural world. Not a world of florescent lights, beige buildings, and artificial construction.
We depend on a contact with nature. It is ingrained, hardwired, it’s in our DNA.  Our emotional, problem-solving, critical-thinking, and constructive abilities are learned in close association with natural environments and are important to personal health, happiness, and productivity.

Summarized in Kellert 2005, scientific studies have found that contact with nature enhances healing and recovery from illness and major surgical procedures including direct contact such as direct daylight and vegetation as well as representation through shapes and imagery.
Also found is that people living near or in open spaces report fewer heath and social issues such as enhanced coping and adaptive behavior.
Office settings with natural light and ventilation along with other environmental features results in improved performance like concentration and memory, lower stress, and more motivation.
In communities, people report superior quality of life, better neighborliness, and a stronger sense of community.

With Biophilic Design, we can create communities, spaces, environments, and buildings where people heal faster, test scores are higher, and people are more productive, healthy, and happy.

Etama Wood Decorative Laminated Glass

Biophilic Design Elements

We have a need to associate with the natural world, but with current urban development and architectural design, we have increased our separation from nature. We have built large obstacles blocking our experience of the natural world, we place people in sensory deprived, artificial settings. Our environments lack adequate natural light, ventilation, materials, vegetation, and views, and environmental forms along with various other aspects we find in the natural world. These kinds of spaces are a breeding ground for fatigue, symptoms of disease,and impaired performance with just simply introducing direct daylight and views would boost health and productivity.

One of the hardest parts of this subject is understanding what makes Biophilic Design. The elements of Biophilic Design is to address our current shortcomings and introduce a new way of designing our new natural habitat.
There are basic Biophilic principles broken into three forms, direct, indirect, and experience of space and place. From there particular 24 practices within each group can be used to help implement positive outcomes.
Direct experiences are spaces with the physical aspect of nature present such as moving water, open air, a living wall, a natural landscape or vista. Whereas indirect experiences imitate the natural occurrence through imagery, using natural materials instead of fabricated simulations, natural color found in nature like earth tones,  simulating natural daylight, and using natural shapes like shells and trees. Lastly, experience of space and place creates a good habitat for people in the modern built environment.

Direct Experience

  • Light
  • Air
  • Water
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Natural Landscapes and Ecosystems
  • Weather
  • Fire

Indirect Experience

  • Images of Nature
  • Natural Materials
  • Natural Colors
  • Simulating Natural Light and Air
  • Naturalistic Shapes and Forms
  • Evoking Nature
  • Information Richness
  • Age, Change, and Patina of Time
  • Natural Geometries
  • Biomimicry

Experience of space and place

  • Prospect and Refuge
  • Organized Complexity
  • Integration of Parts to Wholes
  • Transitional Spaces
  • Mobility and Wayfinding
  • Cultural and Ecological Attachment to Place

Biophilic Design Strategies & Implementation

Biophilic Design is all about countering deficiencies of contemporary building, landscapes, and interior architecture that advances people’s health, fitness, and well being using diverse strategies including the three previous mentioned ways of experiencing nature in a built environment.

Biophilic Design is not just technical or methodological, it is adopting a new mentality towards nature as much as it is a new design technique. It only works when all of the design parts work together. The environment is built of mutually reinforcing and complementary relationships where the total design is larger than the aspects. Avoid the risk of specifying specific strategies of Biophilic Design thus potentially having a piecemeal and disconnected environment. Instead, ensure your design has diverse applications that reinforce and compliment one another creating a overall integrated whole.

The implamentation of Biophilic Design requires adhering to a 5 basic objectives and principals. These are fundamental for effective practice of Biophilic Design.

  1. Biophilic design requires repeated and sustained engagement with nature. Isolated or occasional experiences of nature only create fleeting effects on people and even have a negative impact on beneficial outcomes.
  2. Biophilic design focuses on human adaptations to the natural world that over evolutionary time have advanced people’s health and fitness. Include exposure to nature relevant to human productivity and survival to ensure effective Biophilic Design.
  3. Biophilic design emphasizes an emotional attachment to particular settings and places. Because we crave an association with nature, Biophilic Design engages an emotional attachment to certain spaces that encourage people’s performance and help us identify with and sustain those places.
  4. Biophilic design promotes positive interactions between people and nature that expand our understanding of community to include both humans and nature. Humans are social creature. Biophilic Design creates a connection between people and the environment. This boosts relationships and a sense of belonging within a community.
  5. Biophilic design encourages ecologically connected, mutual reinforcing, and integrated design solutions. Biophilic Design only works when multiple parts work together. This creates immersion allowing various elements to create a complementary, reinforcing, and interconnected whole. When this is only applied to a disconnected area like a random potted plant or framed photo of a landscape that is at odds with another feature is not considered good Biophilic Design.

Biophilic Design is more than just design tactics and techniques. This is more than good ideas. It’s a design lifestyle. It depends on a new way of thinking towards nature and how that connection impacts us physically and mentally and that impact is gauged by the quality and quantity of our connection.

Project/Photo Credit: Steve Dubberly, SEGD | Associate | Experiential Graphic Design