Biophilic Design is Not New


I repeat – Biophilic Design is not new. In the past few years the term “biophilic design” has been on the rise and there is a lot of conflicting information about what this means for us.

So, what is biophilic design? “Biophilia”, means “love of life”. It understands that like all other life on this planet, humans are part of a larger ecosystem. This theory explains that humans have evolved in response to our natural surroundings, and like any other animal, we thrive in the surroundings that most nurture us. Biophilic design is an approach that applies this understanding to the built environment.

Why is this not a new concept?

Let’s start by getting rid of the word “biophilia”. I really do like it, but it is causing us a few issues here. We can start by comparing it to “ergonomics”. Ergonomics studies human capabilities and work demands. By using the term “ergonomics” or “ergonomic design”, we give this concept a field of study, a job title, a type of furniture, we label it to better understand it. We could call it “feeling good while working” or “thank goodness this doesn’t hurt so much to sit anymore!” or “wow, my desk moves up and down and my body thanks me” design (and the many more things ergonomic design can offer us). [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

If we step back from “biophilic design” for a minute, we could see it as “human nature” design, or “human adaptation” design, or “designing spaces I’m less stressed in” design. This is not a new concept, nor a new field of study. In fact, this field has been labeled because the research is so widespread and found in so many various fields, that it was becoming difficult to gather the research into a common area.

Sometimes we must put a concept in a box, stick a label on it,

and then find ways to keep expanding that box.

I would like to ask you to imagine a space. Imagine yourself in your favorite outdoor space. No, really, close your eyes and imagine it! Take a few deep breaths, sit with this for a minute or more. What do you hear, see, smell, feel, or perhaps even taste? Most likely, this was not a monotonous environment, devoid of sensory detail, or you likely wouldn’t have chosen it.

This is the environment we are designed to experience

and the lack of it causes us stress, whether we are aware of it or not.

Humans, just like any other animal, adapted over time to the environments we were surrounded in. Our bodies react to changing sunlight, moving trees or wind, sound, texture, detail, and the interaction of multiple elements in order to better understand our world. Although we spend much of our time indoors today, these reactions are built into us.

We have not outgrown these needs or adapted beyond them,

and often, our indoor environments are causing us a lot of stress. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine]

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Imagine if we could design our interior environments to play off of existing human adaptations . Imagine if we could limit environmental stressors through space planning, orientation to a window, or material selection. This is the goal of biophilic design! So call it what you will, fit it into whichever box you think it belongs, and consider the positive impact we can have on an environment and on the people who inhabit it by using our natural tendencies as a guiding concept in our design work.

Check out my website for the goals of biophilic design and strategies for

implementing biophilic principles into your next design project.

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