The word biophilia originates from the Greek words for Life (Bios) and Love (Philia). It literally means a love of life or living things. As humans, we have an innate biological connection with nature which has existed since man’s very earliest days surviving from the land and living as one with nature.
Throughout history we have seen nature themes incorporated into the earliest human structures and the consistency with which this occurs dispels any misapprehension that biophilic design – the process of designing nature back into the built environment – is a new phenomenon.
Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called “organic architecture”. Whilst this does not encapsulate all the tenants of what we now tend to identify as biophilic design, it does provide a starting point from which we can explore this more recent design trend. “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.
It will never fail you,” is something that Wright is known to have taught to his students. Whilst organic architecture can be seen as a precursor to biophilic design, the term was actually coined in 1964 by social psychologist Eric Fromm and later popularised by biologist Edward Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia in which he deines biophilia as “the urge to afiliate with other forms of life”.It is only really in the past few centuries that the human species has become predominantly urban dwelling.
This shift from countryside to city environment has had a dehumanising effect and has caused a persistent disconnect from nature. It is projected that by 2050, 66% of the developed world will be urbanised, and increasingly distanced from nature and natural systems.Add to this modern society’s dependency on technology and it is easy to see why our mental health and wellbeing are suffering. There is today, a direct correlation between the increasing urbanisation of our society and rising stress rates. In fact, stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organisation.Whilst the science supporting biophilic design is still emerging, it is now being championed as a complementary strategy for addressing many of the familiar challenges to health and wellbeing. Alexander Bond is the Founder of Biophilic Designs, a company that supplies and installs the latest biophilic design products. He says: “Biophilic design has the power to improve the built environment in almost every sector imaginable, for example: happier and more productive employees in corporate environments, calmer and more attentive students in educational spaces and more positive and comfortable patients in healthcare environments.”Interest in biophilia has grown substantially over the last decade as research scientists and design practitioners have attempted to understand the relationships between nature, science, and the built environment so that we may experience the human beneits of biophilia.Biophilic Design expert Oliver Heath believes that the current interest in biophilic design is an extension of the sustainable architecture movement.
“For a long time, the conversation was around sustainability and how we reduce our use of basic resources, such as water and electricity. This was to reduce costs but also to reduce the building’s impact. Now, the conversation revolves around the fact that a massive part of a building’s costs is the people in it and that 90% of the cost is paid out in salary and beneits. So there is a massive opportunity here to support and nurture people in a way that can reduce stress and increase productivity. This means there is a very strong business case for biophilic design.”This business case has not gone unnoticed. According to the report Human Spaces 2.0: Biophilic Design in Hospitality prepared by environmental consulting and strategic planning irm Terrapin Bright Green, hotel rooms with a view to nature, particularly to water, are consistently priced on average 11-18% higher than rooms without a view and the dwell rate of biophilic hotel lobbies is 36% higher than in conventional lobbies, which in turn creates more revenue.
Ofices that incorporate biophilia are known to be more productive and create lower levels of stress, fostering greater happiness and creativity, whilst helping to retain staff and reduce absenteeism. Examples include some large companies who are at the forefront of workplace design such as Facebook, Apple and Amazon and which all incorporate biophilic design principles into their ofices. Hospital patients have been found to receive substantial recovery beneits when exposed to environments that incorporate the principles of biophilia into their design. Being exposed to natural elements, whether directly from nature or an interpretation of it, can aid the healing process of patients by reducing stress levels, reducing the need for medication and in some cases shortening postoperative stays. It can also have a beneicial impact on the staff that work in healthcare facilities. Heath says that biophilic design has been led by an interest in human-centric design and a willingness to