Biophilic Design Trend: Nature of the Space

We previously introduced a new trend of biophilic design and its three categories: 

  1. Natural Analogues encompass the indirect, organic biophilic design in an environment. This category takes on a more subtle approach of rekindling our innate desire by bringing in elements that remind us of nature, such as selecting color palettes or patterns that occur naturally.
  2. Nature of the Space appeals more to humans’ emotions by designing a place that promotes a sense of mystery, refuge or risk and peril.
  3. Nature in the Space is the most straight forward of the three and brings the outdoors into the built environment.


Each unique in the ways biophilic design can bring nature into an environment, but all can work together to provide a space that fulfills humans’ desire to be one with nature. The patterns within these categories also provide various benefits, both mental and physical. 

The second category, nature of the space, utilizes the space within a built environment. The most important factor in this category is creativity because to achieve biophilic design through nature of the space, the goal is a feeling, not necessarily a design. Design elements are used to create a space of prospect, refuge, mystery, and risk and peril. The way people respond to the different design elements should be similar to the way they would respond to similarly structured elements found in nature. This indirect connection to nature can be difficult to achieve, however, when present, it amazes occupants even in the slightest way. 

One way to attract people to keep them engaged is through the element of prospect. An uninterrupted view for more than 20 feet gives the viewer a sense of control, security and freedom. This design element can be incorporated using several strategies. The main objective is to have a focal point so the surrounding objects or elements point to the area of focus. The surrounding objects can be tall buildings, walls, trees, balconies or catwalks acting as arrows pointing to the end point. If the view is obstructed by an object, it should be transparent, such as glass windows or positioned to only partially obstruct the view. Prospect is especially a great use of design if there is a large area that is not being used. The element of prospect aides in reduced stress, irritation, boredom, fatigue, and an improved sense of comfort and safety. 

inside of building with a long hallway


In life, which can often be stressful, it is important to provide a space for people to find refuge. An area of retreat, a place to disconnect and recharge so a person can resume their tasks with a renewed perspective. It is important for these places of refuge to be different and unique from the surrounding areas. It should feel smaller, while avoiding being too cramped so people don’t feel claustrophobic. In general, ceilings should be 18-24 inches shorter than the standard ceiling. Design using refuge can be created using reading nooks, booths or chairs with tall backs that arch overhead. The renewed perspective people have while in these spaces can help them overcome mind blocks and give a refreshed outlook on projects. Refuge as a biophilic design can help increase concentration, attention and perception of safety. 

tables near a railing


The mystery element of nature of the space is important because it provides a basis for curiosity. Mystery is exciting and invites us to see what’s around the corner. According to Kaplan and Kaplan, there are two elements that have to be present in the environment: understanding and exploration. From the vantage point where one is standing, part of their view should be obstructed by some object that entices them to be curious about what is around the corner. This introduces a wonder state of mind, which will increase one’s desire to understand and explore the space. Not only can the sense of mystery be presented through an obstructed view, but also through the use of unknown sounds or occurrences where the source is not recognized. It can be shadows and lights that move in unordinary ways, or sounds where the origin is unknown leading to a curiosity of where it is coming from. 

curved hallway


Risk and Peril
The last biophilic design pattern for nature in the space is risk and peril. Some people feel most alive when they are faced with danger, and the key to this pattern is for the danger to feel real, but also provide a sense of safety so people don’t actually get harmed. The intrigue of risk draws people in and creates an increased dopamine release. The risk and peril design pattern can be seen through the use of heights, drop-offs and water, where the perceived risks are falling, getting wet and the loss of control. The release of adrenaline when faced with these design elements are meant to make the person feel alive and excited to be in the space. An exhilarating, freeing and connection to emotions that are often forgotten about during the day-to-day hustle.

open stairway


All of these patterns for nature of the space can be incorporated into an environment to bring back emotions that are often pushed aside. Emotions that have the capability to change perceptions, and oftentimes, a new perspective is all one needs to solve a difficult problem or reach a resolution when there is conflict. Humans are significantly different from all other living creatures because of our complex emotions, so we need to nurture and encourage self expression inherent in elements of biophilic design.


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