Biophilia, Biophilic design

Biophilic Design Recognizes We’re Healthier Surrounded By Nature

Biophilia: it’s not just an album by the musical muse Björk but the recognition that humans are healthier in environments that incorporate aspects of the natural world. Rather than fighting nature, biophilic design embraces it. The definition of biophilia is the love of life and living things but for a long time, we have been treating nature as if we are separate from it.

“We’ve been encroaching on nature for far too long. Maybe it’s time to let nature encroach on us,” says architecture aficionado Louisa Whitmore.

The modern world has often isolated us in artificial environments, leading to more stress, less productivity, lower cognitive function, and a lower sense of well-being and health. Let’s face it: the modern way of life has often demanded that robotic productivity is the only thing that matters – with the added strain of artificial environments.

“Biophilic design seeks to connect our inherent need to affiliate with nature in the modern built environment. An extension of the theory of biophilia, biophilic design recognizes that our species has evolved for more than 99% of its history in adaptive response to the natural world and not to human-created or artificial forces,” states Metropolis.

Biophilic design, biophilia
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Since at least the Industrial Revolution, there has been a tendency to isolate ourselves from nature and to see it as something to exploit. But it led to a world on the edge of climate disaster. 

Biophilic Design Inspired By The Only Sustainable Model

By all accounts, humans need to change rapidly to a sustainable system. According to the latest UN climate report, the most obvious change is moving to clean energy and away from fossil fuel consumption. But it will also take shifting our way of life and how we see ourselves.

For inspiration, biophilic designers follow a time-tested sustainable model and the only one we have: nature.

“In my mind, the only model we have of a sustainable system is nature,” says Jamie Miller, a sustainability consultancy in Guelph, Canada, trained by Indigenous Elders. 

Biophilic design, biophilia
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Aspects of biophilic design include providing repeated and sustained engagement with nature in an integrated setting that encourages emotional attachment and social relationships with others. Patterns of biophilic design can stimulate all of our senses: visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli inspired by nature.

The presence of water, diffuse light as if filtering through leaves, and subtle changes in airflow and temperature can replicate being in nature. More subtle design elements can be ephemeral. 

building with organic waterfall, Biophilic design, biophilia
Image via YouTube

Biophilic Design is an Ancient Practice

In modern times, people have been exploiting nature to the extent that we’re causing life to vanish. But now, it’s time to change the paradigm and perspective back to an ancient view. The most ancient human structures at Göbekli Tepe, or the Egyptian sphinx, feature nature-inspired designs.

Related: What the Hopi and Indigenous Elders Say About Earth’s Tipping Point

“Biomimicry is the only model of sustainability we have, based on how long it’s been around and how few years humans have been around,” he says. “Once you see that nature is the culmination of billions of years of time-tested solutions, you move away from something to exploit towards something that can really teach us,” says Miller.

plants grow on building, biophilia
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Miller notes that indigenous peoples have always practiced it. In modern times, architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and mid-century designers popularized integrating nature into living spaces. 

Below, Miller and others explore biophilic design with the question, “What if we stopped encroaching on nature and instead allowed nature to encroach on us?” The film features Cognitive Neuroscientist Emily Grant, who demonstrates that merely seeing images of nature immediately lowers stress and improves relaxation.

“People constantly underestimate how restorative nature will be,” says Grant.

Video by Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co. about Biophilia:

Biophilia + Well-being + Design

A recent exhibit at the University of Minnesota Design School explores how biophilic design can make us healthier and encourages further research. The exhibit also notes that incorporating natural elements in design isn’t new but a “fundamental connection” with the living world and the well-being of all life.

Below, Dr. Matthew Trowbridge, a University of Virginia Medical School professor, discusses how biophilic design makes us healthier.

“The importance of nature in built designs extends way beyond just the way it makes us feel,” said Trowbridge. “Even just literal things like shading from trees and so forth has a huge impact on things like a heat island effect.”

Biophilic design teaches us that we have an innate biological need to be connected with nature. That need came into sharper focus during the pandemic. Now, it’s time to take the lessons learned and apply them to change our way of life. Doing so will mean better physiologic and psychological health. But in the bigger picture, it may also help save our species.

Video by Fox9 about Biophilia: