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    Biophilic Design

    Amy Leedham
    Jan 19, '12 6:04 PM EST

    While reducing the energy use of buildings is essential for a sustainable future, it is equally important to improve the conditions in which humans live, work, play, heal etc.. The benefits of natural daylight and ventilation have been proven to improve productivity and reduce sick days in office workers and people generally seem to be more aware that they deserve a healthy environment around them. This concept has been developed into a fully fledged design approach to architecture called biophilic design. However, this concept is generally misunderstood and commonly confused with biomimicry.  This week’s blog aims to explain the philosophy behind biophilic design and architectural applications that can help to achieve a healthier, more natural architecture.

    Biophilia vs. biomimicry

    Biophilic design is based on the theory of ‘biophilia’ which contends that human health and well-being has a biologically based need to affiliate with nature. When this physiological theory is related to architecture, it can be deduced that the modern architectural movement in the twentieth century inherently contradicted physical and natural processes of human physiology by imposing artificial meaning on the built environment. In other words, contemporary biophilic design seeks to re-connect the built environment with nature through specific strategies including, but not limited to, the use of windows, daylight, fresh air, plants and green spaces.
    Biomimicry is often misrepresented as creating a building that looks like something natural. I.E. a building shaped like a pinecone. However, biomimicry, as applied to architecture, is about learning from natural systems and processes to find more efficient solutions to design problems. For example, a building’s skin can be designed to employ a low-energy temperature and moisture control system that is based on the pine cones’ natural ability to self-regulate by opening and closing based on moisture content. Mimicking natural systems and processed will inevitably have an effect on form as well, but that is not the only goal of biomimicry.

    Why is it important?

    It is becoming more generally understood that people who feel more comfortable are more productive There is significant quantitative data that confirm the main points of the biophilia hypothesis, showing that greater contact with natural elements such as sunlight, outdoor air, and living plants has been linked to increased productivity in workers, improvement in learning rates in students, and reduced stress, faster recovery time, and decreased use of painkillers in patients. Additionally, many biophilic strategies also reduce energy use: More natural light means less power needed for artificial light.
    While these strategies sound simple, the fact is that they are noticeably absent from many contemporary projects: Hospitals in particular have moved further and further away from naturalistic elements. The contemporary hospital is a product of the triumph of medical science over nature and thus is designed to cure, not to heal. The hospital has become a machine built to eliminate disease, but very few consider the fundamental aspects of human health. Biophilic design has the potential to re-invent the hospital typology to be more efficient, both medically and environmentally. 


    • adl architetto

      Thank you for the interesting post. I'd like to explore the idea of biophilic design a little bit, so please feel free to correct me if I go too much off track.

      If the emphasis in biophilic design is the connection between human and nature, then a preservationist design approach would be called for; the need to create artificiality whilist touching the natural as little as possible. A hut raised on stilts, a tree-house, or a tent would replace the suburban home. Can we have cities of 10 million living in tree-houses, huts or tents? 1 million? 100k? 

      while a moderate biophilic design philosophy would be to allow for more light, more fresh air, more biodiversity within the contemporary environment, an extremist would call for the annihilation of modern urbanity. Think for a moment about Archigram's Plug-in City. Now, we can imagine a world where all we need are our hyper-technological clothes - where all ideas of shelter (thus architecture) are scaled down to a thin layer surrounding our bodies. The instant city would happen not by the arrival of some festive lightweight mega-structure, but by the proximity of bodies and the connections they establish - urbanity is reduced to social networks together with their supporting infrastructure, and as such it acquires a strong temporal quality. Institutions such as tribunals come into existence only when a majority of "stakeholders" come together i a place. The spatial setting would always be a reinterpreted natural - like parcours reinterprets any environment into a playground. 

      Perhaps Le Corbusier's Radiant City was a crude intention towards biophilia. Even Archigram's plug in city has some elements of that. Superstudio toyed with the idea as well. 

      But there are precedents. The perfect example of a biophilic habitat has to be agrarian communities. One has to live in such a context to fully understand how powerfully connected a human can be to the land, its plants and its animals, both semantically (he or she grasps their crucial role for his or her survival) and emotionally. In Eastern Europe for example, a villager was often judged negatively for maltreating domestic animals. Romanian literature records many instances of an emotional attachment to a domestic animal in their care.

      Perhaps the Native American tribes were last people to truly strive for harmonious coexistence with nature - the extreme of biophilia. 

      Jan 19, 12 10:37 pm  · 

      thanks for the amazing comment! Its nice to get a discussion going on subjects like this. It is true that the essence of biophilic design has been achieved by many different cultures around the world and throughout history. And indeed, the extreme devotee to biophilia would suggest the complete abandonment of the modern city and the increasing urbanization around the world. Personally, while it would make for some pretty cool Utopian style architecture school projects (see AA Emtech and DRL work), I am more interested in figuring out how to achieve this connection to nature in today's projects. Ultimately, the people paying for the project have (in general) not caught up to what is being produced in architecture schools, and neither has the construction industry for the most part. For me, looking to the past and projects like the ones  you mentioned provide the clues of how to incorporate naturalistic elements into today's culture. Its a process of baby steps unfortunately. Since modernism, architecture as generally turned inwards and disconnected itself more and more from nature and its going to take a long time to re-connect at the city scale.

      Jan 20, 12 12:25 pm  · 

      With biophilic design comes a very important discussion. And before we kill it in its labor by defining biophilic design radical, I believe we need to investigate the concepts.

      First of:  the basis of Biophilia is commonsense if we take that humans have developed their perception of reality in nature over several hundred thousand of years compaired to a couple of thousands years of very limited urbanism.

      In that definition we should TNT the cities right now.

      But on the other hand urbanism is a extreme evolutionary succes like our own neurons. The efficient connection of capacities IS the premise of evolution itself.

      In that sense we should power up the chainsaw and roll out urbanism as fast as possible.

      But if we consider the concept of Niche Construction

      We could maybe get to the conclusion that both views needs to collaborate?  I believe urbanism is here to stay, and the numbers support my view. But I believe that the human organism as a perceptual instrument havn't got a chance to keep up with development and will get sick if we don't investigate and explorer the human as a fundamental biohilic object. By a biohilic object I mean that the human organism judge their surrounding by a natural value-set that hardly understand urbanism.  Eventhough it eventually will when niche construction takes effect.

      So In my opinion the most important thing is to acknowledge that our cities, architecture, urban design is in effect niche construction and with that comes the responsibility of really designing the future of human evolution.

      And why that isn't a forefront agenda in the business is a mystery to me. Considering the estimation that 70% of the world population will live en cities by 2050.


      Jan 24, 12 11:38 am  · 

      I definitely agree. The radical projects I was referring to are more along the lines of blanketed application of so-called biophilic principles at the urban scale in an attempt to replicate the exact successful urban development you referred to.

      In some places it is becoming a forefront agenda because the financial benefits are as real as the social ones. Developing countries like India can't really afford to develop in the same way we did and for the most part the recognize this. 

      Jan 24, 12 11:50 am  · 

      Your right... But I'm curious how this recognition will materialise. Since it seems to demand more knowledge about the human organism as the object of architecture than architecture itself is capable of.

      Also it opens the discussion whether the object of architecture is inside or outside the buildings. Which could move the position of interior architects to new definitions?  

      Jan 24, 12 12:09 pm  · 

      Hi Amy, this is such an interesting subject. Today I made a collection of projects and products that are great examples of Biophilic Design. I thought you might find it interesting: 

      Feb 28, 13 11:31 am  · 


      here is one you may have seen - Drew School over on Broderick

      Feb 28, 13 1:57 pm  · 


      Actually I Haven;t made it out there yet...been to the Caxia forum though and absolutely love it, especially the juxtaposition of the plants with the brick and perforated metal skin.


      I am also really interesting in the interior application of large scale living walls, especially for the purpose of air filtration. One of the main aspects of my dissertation was a solar chimney planted with English Ivy and other plant species proven to remove pollutants and microbials from the air.. NASA did some cool research on this


      too bad code isn't as sophisticated as NASA.

      Feb 28, 13 2:12 pm  · 

      Amy - thanks so much for the link to NASA -- very interesting.  Anything more recent that you would recommend?  My research will test for stress in the Healthcare environment, and then test for amelioration of said stress via use of biophilic principles.

      Sep 8, 15 3:52 pm  · 

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