Biophilic Design: The shape of Nature

| Riccardo Del Bello | Sustainability and Well-Being

Biophilic Design is the approach that aims at bringing men closer to nature by creating a connection between outdoor and indoor spaces. According to Biophilic proponents, in modern society, we have unlearned how to live in harmony with nature and forgot its importance.

The right addition of natural elements and points of contact according to the 14 principles of Biophilic design in an interior space can have significant benefits on our health and professional performance. We discussed it in detail in our Introduction to Biophilic Design.

This time anyway, I would like to focus on something different that regards this topic. Because when the context allows it, biophilic design is not just about paint, plants, and materials. It is something that affects and enriches deeply the work of an interior designer nonetheless and will do it more and more as the trend of biophilic design gains momentum.

I am talking about the shape. In modern architecture, we are used to seeing squared buildings and straight lines. Well, in nature that never happens, and surrounding ourselves with more fluid and harmonious shapes is another way in which we establish a connection with it. Luckily there are more and more examples today of Interior Designers and Architect that actively research different lines in their work obtaining results that often look ‘futuristic’ in our eyes, just because we are so used to see squared shapes in the urban environment while it should probably be the opposite.

Ordrupgaard zaha hadidExtention of Ordrupgaard Museum - Zaha Hadid - Photo by Boberger

Guangzhou Opera HouseGuangzhou Opera House - Zaha Hadid - Photo by Mraandthebigbrother

Lucky for us we have quite a few examples that can lead us in designing spaces to enhance the feeling of connection with the outside environment. Let’s have a look at what these sources are and how to get inspiration from them:

Natural Patterns

Since we’re talking about nature, the first one could not be anything other than nature itself. This time I am not referring to plants, but patterns. These are found in nature in specific environments and are often be explained with mathematic models.

Patterns can be found in a number of situations, trees, sand dunes, spirals, waves, tessellations, foams, fractals, and more.

natural patternsPhotos by Just Chaos, Debmalya Mukherjee, Chris 73, Chiswick Chap, Ivar Leidus

These forms found in nature trigger a positive response in us when added in an indoor space that would normally feature ‘regular’ shapes and furniture. This is, in fact, where Biophilic Design reaches a higher level of complexity and can become really outstanding. It is the kind of design that we see in high-profile projects that while not applicable by everyone, as it can reach considerable costs, it reminds us that real Biophilic Design is not achieved just by adding some plants but can and should be much more.

A branch of design and architecture called Biomimicry (whose concept also extends in other industries), is dedicated to this very task. Emulating natural elements and systems like patterns to improve our life, performance, and well-being. In modern design, there are numerous instances of biomimicry, and they are becoming more numerous as these principles become more popular.

The importance of reconnecting with nature through observation and integration of our surroundings in the designs brings me to the next point…

Vernacular Architecture and Interior Design

The word itself indicates a kind of design that favours the use of local products and elements directly connected with the local culture and environment. This is an extremely important topic today, where in a post-pandemic world, with remote working and trends like workation and staycation, small and close destinations, that preserves a strong component of the local culture are gaining importance. This is highlighted as well in the hospitality sector.

Very often, vernacular architecture and interior design are clearly observable in ancient locations where buildings were heavily shaped by local culture, customs, and environmental factors such as climate, and raw materials availability.

trulli apuliaTrulli - Photo by Berthold Werner

batak houseBatak house - Photo by Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures

Two good examples of this are the Trulli and the Batak houses. The first is a typical house of the Apulia region, in southern Italy, that in ancient times was built with stone masonry and whose structure is preserved even today. The second is a characteristic house built within the Batak ethnic groups in Sumatra, Indonesia. Materials used too are still the same most of the time, and they bring a connection with the surrounding environment.


This happened often in art as well. Architect Antoni Gaudì famously used nature as an inspiration for his creations obtaining something completely new yet harmonious.

There are two quotes from him that in my opinion indicate very well the meaning of his work and the potential connection between our work as designers and architects and nature.

There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.


Anything created by human beings is already in the great book of nature.

His work is also often brought as an example of biomimicry too.

sagrada familiaGaudì's Sagrada Familia - Photo by Sba73

A special mention

As highlighted in our introduction to biophilic design, several companies among the biggest in the world, namely Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and so on, are adopting biophilic design for both sustainability and wellbeing/performance improvement reasons.

Another noteworthy example of this positive transformation is the one that has been happening for a few years now in Singapore. To escape the skyscrapers and concrete jungle of big cities the Singapore government approved numerous initiatives throughout the years, to improve the life quality in the metropolis. The plan called LUSH 2.0 – Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-rises approved by Urban Redevelopment Authority is recovering green spaces and greenery lost in the past thanks to tall buildings adding more of it in sky gardens, terraces and balconies as well as in indoor spaces.

This is just one of the latest of a long series of actions taken to transform Singapore into a proper Biophilic City.

singapore gardenSupertree Grove Singapore - Photo by Dronepicr

It is an exciting landscape the one developing around biophilic and sustainable design. The fact that big players and important institutions are following the trend is a direct indication of its growing importance and recognition. And this represents also an unprecedented opportunity for interior designers and architects to grow and experiment with the complexities offered by nature to improve our work and the benefits for our health that come from it.


*Cover image by DWP

Riccardo Del Bello

Written by: Riccardo Del Bello

Riccardo is the marketing manager and partner of A Designer at Heart. He is in charge of the development and brand definition of the company for its marketing activities.


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