What is Biophilic Design?

As humans, we have an innate need for connection, not only to other people, but to nature as well. Biophilia is the phenomena of humans being in awe of nature, such as standing before Yosemite National Park, or walking along the beach, or feeling at peace while sitting in a garden. We all have something within us that is longing for nature, but how do we satisfy this in urban areas where space is limited for a botanical garden, small park, or even a tree? The solution is a revolutionary movement called biophilic design, which is bringing nature to seemingly impossible spaces. Architects, city planners and individuals are incorporating biophilic design into their environments and reconnecting with nature. 

Biophilic design is intentionally bringing nature to the built environment. With a creative imagination, the possibilities are endless on how biophilic design can impact urbanization. The most common element of biophilic design is a plant on a desk, but these can also be water fixtures, natural light, living walls, and much more. In addition to the biophilic design elements you can see, it can also take forms in other senses you can hear, feel, taste and smell. For example, a water feature, aromatic plants or air conditioning that imitates weather patterns. One of the best parts of biophilic design is it can adapt to any environment to enhance the space. 

living green wall in a restaurant


The simplicity of incorporating biophilic design is merely one of the many benefits. The advantages go beyond satisfying the longing for nature; they include improved physical health and mental wellbeing. Physical health benefits have shown a decrease in sick days by 14%, saving companies increasing costs due to paid sick day policies. Biophilic design has also shown to help decrease cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress, and reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Employees in stressful working environments could be positively affected by surrounding themselves with biophilic design elements. 

The air we breathe also impacts our physical health. We learned in elementary school that plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, despite the environment where one works or lives. Everyone can benefit from clean oxygen and well incorporated biophilic design can take in carbon dioxide that is flooded with contaminants and release clean, crisp oxygen into the environment. 

Beyond the physical health benefits, mental wellbeing is just as important, especially in work environments that require a sharp mind to make good decisions. People who are surrounded by biophilic design in the workplace are 15% more creative and 6% more productive than those in spaces without these design elements. Employees surrounded by nature also have a 30% decrease in fatigue. These statistics are substantial enough to draw attention to the need for biophilic design in even the smallest of spaces. 

The benefits of biophilic design call into question why it has taken society so long to welcome it with open arms. It could be that there is a lack of understanding on how someone even begins to bring biophilic design into an environment. To start, it is important to know there are 14 different types of biophilic design grouped into three categories: natural analogues, nature of the space and nature in the space. 

Natural analogues encompass the indirect, organic biophilic design in an environment inviting the “unnatural” into a space. Natural analogues use color palettes, shapes, patterns, furniture and decor to mirror those found in nature. Architects and planners leave wood beams exposed so the passersby can notice the direction of the grain and the intricate detail found in trees. These designs can also be achieved by incorporating patterns seen in nature, such as the Fibonacci series in sea shells, rings around a tree trunk or the symmetry of butterfly wings. Creative architects and designers can use these elements along with natural elements found in furniture and decor to seamlessly bring these features into the structure of buildings. 

The second category, nature of the space, utilizes the area of the building’s environment. In essence, the design of a space includes the untouched nature it is surrounded by. Creativity is one of the most important elements in this category because to achieve this type of nature, the goal is a feeling, not necessarily a design. This can be accomplished by utilizing floor to ceiling windows so people inside have an uninterrupted view of nature. Nature of the space can also provide people with a refuge from their surroundings, a sense of safety. A well designed environment can introduce biophilic design through a sense of mystery by blocking a view and inviting people to wonder what is around the corner. It uses people’s emotions to connect them with nature by incorporating a “risk and peril” design. A way to create this feeling would be to have a “drop off” with a railing so people find refuge in the safety feature. Environments such as these pose an unidentifiable situation followed by a sense of relief from the designed space. 

Nature in the space is the third and final category and the most straightforward of biophilic design. This category brings in the physical side of nature. It can be as simple as buying a plant to put on your desk or making a statement and designing a living green wall. Nature in the space goes beyond the visual connection, it includes the haptic, auditory, gustatory and olfactory aspect. This can be represented with a change in temperature that mimics, within reason, outdoor temperature fluctuations that happen with seasons. It can be the presence of a fountain system that creates sounds that a stream would make in a forest. With a wide imagination, the biophilic designs brought into a space can stimulate all of the senses. 

One of the most technical forms of nature in the space is living walls which completely transform an environment. They are the gentle giant that quietly and humbly work to provide all of the benefits mentioned above. Living walls have changed the way people incorporate biophilic design into any space, regardless of size, access to natural light, or location. The beauty of these walls is the ability to go virtually anywhere: interior or exterior, areas with abundant natural light or limited access, secured to walls or in the middle of the room.

The possibilities are vast, and with an open mind, you can make a positive impact and transform your space into an amazing piece of living art. It is crucial to keep in mind that biophilic design gives you the amazing ability to help humans get in touch with nature.