• Megan at ZeroSmart

What is Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is the practice of creating a closer connection to nature within a building's design. The design requires repeated engagement with nature (both directly or indirectly), with some of the most common ideas including:


  • The addition of flora into walls, interior design, roofs, and landscaping,

  • Where possible, the encouragement of fauna into the flora (particular insects and small birds),

  • The use of natural light,

  • Using natural materials such as timber, clay, or wood in the design,

  • Realistic images of spaces in nature.

Singapore’s Supertree Grove is an example of Biophilic Design. The entire city-state could arguably be the world’s first Biophilic City.

Despite humans developing within the natural world, we are now extremely separate from it. Contemporary people now spend 90% of their time indoors. This is an extremely recent thing within our evolution as a species, with a lot of what we consider normal being recent in our evolution: The invention of a city is just 6,000 years old and the mass production of goods only happened within the last 400 years. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is essential for us as a species to be in touch with nature.


A timeline of the development of our species.

Despite this, modern building and landscape design have largely treated nature as an object to be removed. This has resulted in an increasing disconnect between people and nature within the built-up environment. With 56% of the human population now living in cities, this disconnect is becoming a prevalent issue: With current accepted building and landscape design lacking natural light, ventilation, materials, shapes, and views, it is very sensory deprived. It has even been described as "reminiscent of the old-fashioned zoo.


“The relationship between humankind and nature can be one of respect and love rather than domination...The outcome...can be rich, satisfying, and lastingly successful, but only if both partners are modified by their association to become better adapted to each other...With our knowledge and sense of responsibility...we can create new environments that are ecologically sound, aesthetically satisfying, and economically rewarding...This process of reciprocal adaptation occurs...through minor changes in the people and their environment, but a more conscious process of design can also take place.”


Benefits of Biophilic Design


An increasing amount of scientific research reveals that nature is extremely beneficial to our mental health, performance, and wellbeing. While the research is often limited, various sectors, including work, education, health, and community, support the idea that contact with nature is still hugely influential in people’s wellbeing. This can be seen across the globe, in the eco-antidote to burnout such as Forest bathing in Japan, or in hospitals using biophilic design within hospital rooms: Which has been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and provide pain relief.


Research has indicated that a view of nature can enhance recovery from illness and surgery and reduce the need for pain medication.

Biophilic design space is designed to be self-sustaining. It will transform over time, just as the natural world does. The result of this is a more productive and resilient natural environment measured by things such as biological diversity and biomass. The benefits of biophilic design are much more than the design itself, if done effectively, it should support an ecologically sound and sustainable natural community, in which all indicated human benefits will continue to be seen.


Design Considerations of Biophilic Design


No two designs are ever going to be the same, as no two places are the same. The following are considerations that must be made for every design.


Climate, ecology, and vernacular


The climate, ecology, and vernacular of an environment are going to have precedence over the natural flora and fauna which will exist in a certain space. The process of using local timber, native plants, and landscapes that reflect the pre-existing landscape is known as vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture is something that should be considered throughout every biophilic design. This is to ensure the creation of a resilient, biophilic experience.


Scale and feasibility


Every single biophilic design should be in scale to its surrounding environment and how many people will be using the space. A design can be for an entire city, a neighborhood, or only a room - all of which will come with their demands to create a sustaining biophilic space. These demands will include the climate, culture, and needed infrastructure.


Culture and demographics


The surrounding culture and demographic of a design are going to create the needs and expectations of each design. The age of those who are going to use the created space, for example, will hugely influence a design. Youth benefit the most from nature contact in terms of increased self-esteem. The elderly, however, are known to not benefit in this way as much, but more in terms of mood enhancement from nature contact. With youth also comes different expectations regarding the safety of a design. For example, a youthful demographic would possibly see an urban woodland as an enticing, exciting space. Whereas, an older demographic may perceive this to be daunting and risky.


Examples of Biophilic Design


The benefits of biophilic design have been proven to be seen rather immediately from those within the spaces. With US businesses currently losing billions of dollars each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illness, it is unsurprising to see unique masterpieces of biophilic design being seen around the globe. Here are some examples:


1. Apple Park, California, USA


Apple's campus in California is regarded as one of the leading examples of biophilic design. The doughnut shape building mirrors the natural curves found in nature and allows light into its offices from every angle. A 9,000-tree woodland also surrounds the campus.


Apple Park, California, USA.

2. Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy


The Bosco Verticale (‘vertical forest’) are two residential towers in Milan. Its walls and balconies are covered in thousands of shrubs and bushes which are irrigated by rainwater systems.


Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy.

3. Rolls Royce, Chichester, England


The HQ engine manufacturer Rolls Royce in Southern England has one of the world’s largest green roofs. It has thousands of square feet covered in native plant species.


Rolls Royce, Chichester, England.

Not all biophilic design has to be to such a grand scale. People have been using biophilic designs in their homes, apartments, and miro-spaces with houseplants, images, and windows. Here is an example of a biophilic apartment in Amsterdam.



Conclusion


Biophillic design is being used around the globe to bridge the gap which we have made between ourselves and nature. As our population grows and a higher percentage of us are living in urban areas, the demand and expectation of biophilic design are likely to evolve. Have you ever visited a biophilic experience? Have you been using biophilic design (knowingly or unknowingly) within your own spaces?