Biophilia: how our “Love of Life and the Living World” can heal
your guide to sustainability: we learn from nature
28 november '22
Reading time: 6 minutes
Biophilia, which explains our inherent positive connection to the natural world as humans, is emerging in design concepts. What are the results of this, and what larger conclusions can we draw?
Words by Mary Belle Gresh
Picture by André Cook
There is something euphoric about the feeling you get when you’re surrounded by nature. As human life becomes increasingly dependent on technology, we spend so much more time inside. Some studies estimate that up to 93% of our time is spent either indoors or in a car. It seems like there’s a tendency for people to force themselves outside, or to treat being in nature like it has to be accompanied by some activity to provide benefits. Many feel like going outdoors requires a physical milestone - you have to finish a long hike, go skiing, kayak the distance of the lake, or run a mile on the beach - to really profit from the outdoors. According to biophilic design, that’s not true.
Wait… what’s biophilia?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Biophilia, which inspires biophilic design, is the “love of life or living systems.” The ancient Greek roots for living things, bio, and philos, which signifies a love of living things and the natural world, collide to try and encapsulate our inherent positive connection to the natural world as humans. Biophilia is a tendency and desire to commune with nature, and reflects our affinity for other life forms.
Design inspired by nature
You guessed it - biophilic design uses the natural world as a source of creative inspiration. It seeks to enhance the industrial architecture we live, learn, and work in with natural elements. In the words of Interface, “by consciously including nature in interior or architectural design, we are unconsciously reconnecting, bringing the great outdoors into our constructed world.”
Biophilic design features elements that directly reference nature that has helped humans survive. This could look like green walls, wood, stone, textured carpets, cork, draping plants, water features, big windows, light, and organic forms and silhouettes. Even fans that move the air, diffusers with plant oils, or nature-like sounds can have the necessary immersive feeling.
Most of human history has required adaptive response to the natural world, so elements that have contributed to our health and wellbeing throughout evolution are the focal point. Basically, your office adding big fish tanks lining the walls or decorative tumbleweed artfully placed in a sand-filled table centerpiece will not necessarily have the desired effect. Biophilic design relies on a pervasive sensory experience. You must be immersed, you must be engaged, you must be integrated into an ecosystem that does not feel artificial. According to Metropolis, “the effectiveness of biophilic design depends on interventions that are connected, complementary, and integrated within the overall environment rather than being isolated or transient.”
Picture by Suzanne Rushton in Tulum, Mexico.
This design style is often called “the future of design”, and highly sought-after for architecture, interior design, and urban planning. It seeks to cultivate health and productivity through focusing on aspects of the natural world, but can we quantify the benefits?
They say you can’t buy happiness, but a really well designed space might be a good start. In corporate offices, worker performance and productivity is obviously affected by poor health. There is a direct correlation between office design and employees that report better well-being and overall performance. Interface says, “Even simple changes to incorporate nature in the workplace can have a huge impact on how employees feel when they come to work, and how happy, creative and productive they feel when they are working.” Biophilic climes can reduce stress, blood pressure, and heart rate, and improve cognitive function, creativity, and overall mood. Studies report increased rates in learning anywhere from 20-23%, boost creativity by 15%, and can result in a 22% decrease of the use of pain medication. Biophilic design can make people feel truly cared for.
Picture by Interface
The euphoria of nature
It’s very exciting to imagine the new urban living centers, schools, workplaces, hospitals, and areas where we spend most of our time that Biophilic design could alter. But the topic points us to an interesting truth - that our increasing separation from nature is actively harming us. We need to relearn that just being and existing in nature is valuable in itself. You don’t always have to go outside to “accomplish” something. You can feel good about just sitting with nature. Looking at the ocean. Meditating in a park. Breathing in the scent of the soon approaching winter.
The spaces we inhabit have power, and while it’s important to note the psychological and physiological dimensions of this, it’s also important to take time in nature with no expectations and standards you must live up to. Let the Earth do what she was meant to do for you outside, and if you have the opportunity to let her into your indoor space, even better.