Biophilic Design Trend: Nature in 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. Below we take a closer look at the third category, nature in the space. the most common approach within biophilic design.

The Visual Connection
The first pattern that falls within nature in the space is a visual connection. Simply put, this is the type of biophilic design that provides the ability to see nature. The most common and recurring attempt of this pattern is a potted plant on a desk or large windows in an office building. These are steps in the right direction, however, there is much more that can be done to provide people with a visual connection. Nature in the space can also be a koi pond, a piece of art resembling nature, a well designed landscape or a living green wall

The advantages of a living green wall compared to a pond or landscape is the ability to be incorporated into virtually any space with minimal to no construction. Living walls can provide an escape from the computer screen, textbook or phone, even if just for a small moment. The benefits of a visual connection with nature can be seen in improved cognitive performance, stress reduction and mental wellbeing. The presence of nature can improve mental focus and attentiveness, lower blood pressure and heart rate and increase overall happiness. There has been extensive research proving these benefits exist and the real impact they make in an environment. 

living wall in an apartment lobby


The Non-Visual Connection
Biophilic design goes beyond the visual aspect; it can be experienced through auditory, haptic, gustatory and olfactory senses as well. The study and research behind these senses and their relationship to biophilic design has opened the door to even more biophilia that can be invited into an environment. These can occur naturally or be simulated or constructed forms of a non-visual connection to nature. A naturally occurring form can be found in herbs or plants that are very aromatic and can fill a room with their pleasant scent or an opened window to hear songbirds or wind blowing through the trees. 

Simulated examples of nature include sounds from a water feature or materials that resemble textures in nature. In addition to materials that have nature-like textures, there are also those with different physical properties. For example, a stone material is more likely to feel cool to the touch while wood is more likely to feel warmer to the touch. These non-visual connections provide benefits in much the same way as visual connections. Studies have shown a decrease in systolic blood pressure and stress, a positive impact on cognitive performance, and perceived improvements in mental health and tranquility. 


Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
Without thinking about it, we all recognize that there are natural movements happening all around us. The ever changing shape and presence of clouds, the reflection of light off of a water surface or the breeze blowing through plant life. This type of biophilic design is termed non-rhythmic sensory stimuli. These rhythms can be studied, but they cannot be predicted with 100% accuracy. The presence of these movements in a space have positive impacts on heart rate, systolic blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity. This pattern of biophilic design also has effects on cognitive performance resulting in increased attention and exploration. To maximize these patterns into an environment, incorporate large windows where clouds are visible, create an unpredictable broadcast of nature sounds or dampen light elements. The key to this pattern is to create random and subtle movements in the space that will only be noticed subconsciously.

woman sitting in front of a body of water


Thermal and Airflow Variability
Studies have shown that thermal and airflow variability have impacts on comfort, wellbeing, productivity, concentration and an improved perception of alliesthesia, the relationship between an external stimuli and the pleasure or displeasure that the stimuli invokes. There are plenty of ways that thermal and airflow variability can be built into an environment to fulfill this type of biophilic design. A building can be constructed with large windows allowing heat to travel through and create spots that are warmer than the surrounding areas, or the walls and shapes of the building can create a draft that flows through the space. The HVAC can be programmed to keep an area at comfortable temperatures while creating some variability that stimulates a reaction in the occupants. The building can also implement materials that naturally reflect heat when the sun hits its surface. 


Presence of Water
In addition to the visual connection, non-visual connection, non-rhythmic stimuli and airflow variability, the presence of water has its own pattern of biophilic design. There are many benefits associated with the sounds, movement and simply the presence of water. There has been evidence that shows reduced stress, increased feelings of tranquility, lower heart rate and blood pressure. It has also been shown to improve concentration, memory restoration, enhanced perception, psychological responsiveness and positive emotional responses. This form of biophilic design can be incorporated by using a pond of water or an aquarium. And while real water should be the priority, pictures and computer simulations of water can present similar benefits to those of real water. 

water fountain in the outdoors


Light Diffusion and Shadows
One of the under-appreciated occurrences in nature are the changes in shadows and intensities in light that happen throughout the day. An environment that is well designed in terms of diffused light can cause a sense of drama, intrigue and mystery to a space. This type of biophilic design can easily be brought into a space when windows are present. However, if window accessibility is limited or it is a cloudy day, light diffusion cannot pass along its benefits to humans. An easy way to implement light diffusion into an environment is use low glare lights and treat windows to reflect rays that are not great for a person’s eyes. A subtle way to achieve this is to have a circadian color pattern that is integrated into the office. Ideally it would be white light in the morning, and as afternoon approaches, it would reduce blue light. This would encourage healthier sleep patterns by complementing the natural circadian rhythms. Diffused light also takes stress off of eyes and increases general comfort. 


Connection with Natural Systems
The last pattern included in this category is the connection with natural systems. Essentially, this pattern is reminding people of the natural cycles nature goes through. Cycles such as seasons, weather changes, pollination and the food chain among animals. It is difficult to build these elements into an environment because there is nothing we can do to make seasons change, effect the weather or insects to pollinate, however, we can build environments with these elements. Office buildings can use landscapes with native plants that change with the seasons, rainwater collections or plants that attract insects and structures such as bird houses and feeders. This biophilic design pattern benefits people by providing an enhanced positive health response and shift in perception, which aids in fighting against plant blindness. 

rain drops on a window

These seven patterns of nature in the space are one of many ways biophilic design can increase the aesthetics of an environment and provide an array of benefits to those within the space.


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