The Promise of Biophilic Design

Lindsay and Mikhail

What if our built environment could enhance our well-being?

What if our built environment could enhance our capacity to care for the well-being of our planet?

Biophilic Design holds the promise of unlocking both of these possibilities.

In his seminal book, Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life, Dr. Stephen Kellert defines biophilic design as “building and landscape design that enhances human physical and mental well-being by fostering positive connections between people and nature.”

Not to be confused with a specific “natural” or “organic” aesthetic, biophilic design is a defined design methodology with proven benefits for human performance and well-being. To this end Kellert and other practicioners have distilled Six Principles of Biophilic Design to guide designers in reliably producing this “biophilic effect.”

Biophilic Design and Well Being

Why is it that when we imagine a place of inspiration, beauty, and respite, we nearly always think of a place in nature?

Our brains and bodies evolved over tens of thousands of years without buildings, and we now realize that we are at our best when we can recreate physical and psychological reminders of our most ancient home.

Elements of biophilic design can be found in many examples of our most iconic architecture, buildings whose appeal has stood the test of time. Through this new lens, we begin to understand why.









There’s some exciting scientific evidence of the benefits of biophilic design:

Cut Absenteeism
Avoidable absenteeism costs millions of dollars annually. Terrapin Bright Green tracked a study linking a 10% difference in absenteeism rates between two sides of a building. (The one with nature views won.)

Attract and Retain
A Manhattan bank was designed so that 90% of employees had fabulous views of parks, green roofs, or rivers. The building became a recruiting tool (and perk) that paid off for HR.

Save Millions
Calculations show reducing the average length of stay in hospitals today by 0.41 days can amount to $93 million in reduced hospital costs every year, and Biophilic Design strategies are proven to reduce length of stay.

Biophilic design and sustainability

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, noted, “The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

At Interface, we believe biophilic design represents a potential turn-around strategy for our species. We see an opportunity to help reconnect us to the web of life, and cultivate a profound relationship with nature, even in an increasingly urbanized and virtual world.

Ray Anderson often reminded us, “Anything we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves.”

Biophilic design holds the promise of embedding this reminder in every space we create.

There are six Principles of Biophilic Design:

1. Environmental Features
Bringing well-recognized characteristics of the natural world into the built environment: Color, water, air, sunlight, plants, animals and natural materials. Landscapes and Geology.

2. Natural Shapes and Forms
Botanical, animal and shell motifs. Shapes resisting straight lines and right angles. Arches and vaults and domes (architecture that evokes emotion). Simulation of natural features, extending even to biomorphic art, architecture, design.

3. Natural Patterns and Processes
Varying the sensory experience of a space with time, change, and transitions; complimentary contrasts, the play between balance and tension; rhythm, ratios and use of scale. Information richness. Fractals and organized complexity.

4. Light and Space
Learning how and why humans react to light in all its forms (warm, cool, shaped, filtered, diffused, inside vs. outside) informs how to use it. The same applies to differing kinds of spaces: Shaped, harmonious, jarring, light and dark, etc.

5. Place-Based Relationships
The significance of place is tied to meaning: Historic, cultural, geographic, spiritual, or ecological. With deeper understanding, we can honor and evoke those relationships within the build environment.

6. Evolved Human-Nature Relationships
We have been transformed by our complex relationship with Nature, and we still react strongly to the echoes of our long history. We can use design to evoke these powerful reminders, such as Prospect and Refuge; Order and Complexity; Curiosity and Enticement; Mastery and Control; Affection and Attachment; Security and Protection; Exploration and Discovery; Information and Cognition; Fear and Awe.

What is Biophilic Design?

It’s great design that recognizes and embraces how humans are biological creatures with deeply rooted biological needs.

To reach our creative potential we need sensory stimulations.

To heal faster we need natural light.

To learn better we need exposure to order and complexity.

And to truly achieve sustainability, we need to cultivate our innate and deep love for life.


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