An Introduction to Biophilic Design

| Martina Pardo | Sustainability and Well-Being

If especially during this period with many countries in lockdown, you happen to struggle with your daily routine, due to stress or concentration difficulties in work and study, then you are in the right place.

As interior designers, Biophilic Design has become almost a buzzword nowadays, and for a good reason (that we’ll go over together soon). But surprisingly, many people outside of our field of work don’t even know what it is about, and the amazing benefit that it can bring to our lives.

Environmental degradation and alienation from nature are not inevitable consequences of modern life, but rather failures, and how we have deliberately chosen to design our buildings and our cities. We designed ourselves into this predicament, and we can design ourselves out of it with the help of Biophilic Design

Stephen Kellert

What is Biophilic Design and how it developed?

Everything starts with the Biophilia. The term coined by Eric Fromm in 1964 and made popular by biologist, naturalist Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia where he argues that the very essence of our humanity is our natural affinity for life and the desire to connect with nature. The absence of it can cause suffering and health issues.

wilson kellert

In the photo: Mr. Edward O. Wilson, and Mr, Stephen Kellert

The concept has evolved in evolutionary psychology in the Biophilia Hypothesis formulated later in 1993 by Stephen Kellert. The theory suggests that as humans we strive for the connection with the natural world and he looked to define the human responses to the perception of natural elements such as plants, animals to explain them in terms of the condition of human evolution.

Biophilia is now widely considered crucially important to our physical and mental health. In design and architecture, Biophilic is an evolution of sustainable design that while addressing the reduction of the carbon footprint in construction developments, does not tackle the human connection with the nature it tries to preserve.

Direct and Indirect connection with Nature

So, how do we create a connection with nature that our body unconsciously recognises and benefit from in an interior space?
Luckily, there are various detailed and complementary ways to achieve that. This connection can be established in either Direct or Indirect ways. The most important detail though, is that the overall interior space has to follow the principles. So, just integrating natural elements here and there won’t suffice. A proper Biophilic Interior should feature several different elements, whether direct or indirect.

servery biophilic

The Direct ones are:

  • Visual Connection with Nature. An available view on natural elements and living ecosystems.
  • Non-Visual Connection with Nature. Auditory, olfactory, or tactile inputs that convey the connection with natural elements and living ecosystems.
  • Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. Stochastic and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.
  • Thermal & Airflow Variability. Changeable environment and surfaces' temperature, air humidity, and currents, that mimic natural environments.
  • Presence of Water. Integration of water that recalls the natural experience through hearing, touch, or eyesight.
  • Dynamic & Diffuse Light. Appropriate use of light with changing intensity and warmth simulating a varying natural environment.
  • Connection with Natural Systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.

biophilic lighting interior design

*Source: Beersnielsen Lighting Designers

While the Indirect ones are:

  • Biomorphic Forms & Patterns. Symbolic references to nature through contours, patterns or textures.
  • Material Connection with Nature. Use of natural materials that, through minimal processing, reflect environmental awareness.
  • Complexity & Order. Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.

Source: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

green wall room

Why is it important?

Here comes the good part! Various studies and a wide body of literature quoted by the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design have proved and documented how, featuring various elements of direct and indirect connection with nature, will help reduce stress, heart rate, blood pressure, and at the same time increase efficiency, creativity and wellbeing.

The study The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments, documents how the presence of plants, not only improves air quality up to 25% but also perceived air quality, as reported by a survey conducted among students, who consequently performed their tasks more efficiently.

In learning or working spaces, Biophilic elements implementation has resulted in an 8% increase of perceived wellbeing and 13% in creativity, and up to 25% in terms of ease of learning and focus. Similarly, exposure to natural auditory stimuli produced a 37% faster reduction in stress and cognitive fatigue.

Big Boys are going into Biophilic Design as well

If the numbers weren’t enough, another demonstration of Biophilic design importance is how big companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Facebook are implementing these principles as well in their offices.

Apple’s HQ in Cupertino, California, is a great example of that. The complex developed with wellbeing and environmental respect in mind is surely a sight to behold, and undeniably incorporating principles of Biophilic design in order to improve employees’ daily experience.


Facebook’s $1 billion Menlo Park HQ is also a recently developed macro-centre where the big effort to integrate nature deeply and bring in the workers’ experience is evident.


Last but not least, Amazon’s impressive
Spheres HQ located in Seattle is probably the one that integrates Biophilic Design at its core the most. Right from the shape of the building itself, up to the numerous details and different environments created inside.

Where to Start?

If like me, after reading and seeing all these things about nature and benefits to our daily life, you can’t wait to start reshaping your home, or room, or studio with a Biophilic approach, then follow the next few tips to get started.

1. Start with Decluttering

Getting rid of all the stuff in excess that we involuntarily accumulate at home is always a great starting place. A freer, airier space can make already a big difference in helping us relax and reducing stress.

2. Take the view into account

If you are refurbishing the interior of a studio or workspace, keep in mind the view if you have options and can make a few structural changes. A nice window overlooking a garden, park, or even some trees, is definitely more inspiring than a wall. It also allows you to enjoy some airflow which is important as well.

3. Buy plants but don’t stop there

The easiest first step, when starting to integrate Biophilic Design is adding plants. Depending on the specific type, number, and placement that you will decide you can completely change the feeling of a room.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind though. First is that, as mentioned before, it is not sufficient to just add some plants to create a proper beneficial “ecosystem”, so while they are the best starting point, we must remember the rest as well. Secondly, be sure to know exactly how to grow them properly. I’d argue that a bunch of half-dead dry plants might actually cause the opposite effect.

homely biophilic design

*Photo by Biofilico

4. Think about those lights too

Another feature that is quite easy to upgrade is light. Following these principles, various companies have started producing light bulbs or light systems that complement our circadian rhythm, the natural cycles of wake and sleep with light and dark that we are born with as humans but that sometimes we forcefully change due to the use of electronic devices and our modern lifestyle.

5. Gradually move to structural elements

If you have added plants and replaced lights, but still wish to do more, you can start thinking about substituting materials within your interior. Cork or natural materials panels on the wall or on furniture pieces are also a great way to get creative while integrating a bit of nature within your space. If you wish to know more about this then definitely check our guide 5 Top Materials for a Sustainable Interior in 2020.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to this fascinating design current. What’s better than improve our lives through interior design while also being more environmentally conscious?

I will follow up with more on this topic. In the meantime, if you have questions, or there are topics you’d like to see discussed here in future articles, don’t hesitate to contact me through email or social media!


Martina Pardo

Written by: Martina Pardo

I am Martina, an Italian designer based in London. I spend most of my time designing interiors or writing about it. I also love travelling. You may find me walking around the East End of London, drinking coffee and stopping at every single bookshop I bump into.

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