What is Biophilic design?

Biophilia (meaning love of nature) focuses on human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural world built up through hundreds of thousands of years of living in agrarian settings.

It is a term popularized by American psychologist Edward O Wilson in the 1980’s, when he observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnection with the natural world. With high rates of migration to urban settings in the developed world and soaring rates in developing countries – Biophilia is of ever increasing importance to our health and well-being in the built environment.

Biophilic Design uses these ideas as principles to create a human centred approach that when applied improves many of the spaces that we live and work in today, with numerous benefits to our health and well-being.

Why is biophilic relevant today?

The World Health Organisation expects stress related illness, such as mental health disorders and cardio-vascular disease, to be the two largest contributors to disease by 2020.  With a diminished connection to nature, the increasing pressure on urban space & the ubiquitous  technological presence we have less opportunity to recuperate our mental and physical energy.

Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment have been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self reported rates of well-being.

Businesses at the vanguard of work place design such as Apple, Google and Amazon are investing heavily in Biophilic Design elements. These principles are shown to improve worker concentration, engagement and cognitive ability but also to attract and retain staff in the “war for talent”.

What are the benefits of spaces with biophilic design elements?

There have been numerous studies over the last 35 years on the benefits to the built environment through improving a connection to nature.

A recent study called the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, by carpet tile manufacturers Interface looked at 7600 office workers over 16 countries. The results were clear, that those work spaces with biophilic elements were:

  • 6% more productive
  • 15% higher levels of self reported well-being
  • 15% more creative

In healthcare spaces a report carried out 1984 by Roger Ulrich demonstrated benefits to patients recovering form gall bladder surgery in rooms with views onto nature :

  • patients  recovered 8.5% faster
  • the required 22% less medication
  • patients felt less pain

In schools with biophilic features there are a pyramid of benefits; to the student, the staff, the education establishment and the economy on the whole, such as:

  • children learn 20 to 25% faster when natural light is present,
  • classrooms with plants can see improved performance in spelling, mathematics and science subjects of 10 to 14%
  • green walls improve acoustics and air quality whilst reducing CO2 levels in spaces with poor ventilation
  • reduced  absenteeism of 3.5 days per pupil.

How do we implement biophilic design?

At Heath Design we take a quantitative and qualitative approach to define the brief and requirements. We work alongside the client plus financial, HR, FM managers and the spatial users themselves to build a complete picture.

This leads us to better understand the spatial and human opportunities that exist and realise more focused  results to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

Our investigations would like lead us to make improvements to:

  • optimization and organisation of spaces with a human focus
  • thermal comfort levels
  • air quality, toxin levels and ventilation
  • acoustic comfort
  • improved natural and artificial lighting
  • internal and external views onto nature
  • the use of natural materials textures, patterns and colours
  • the incorporation of recuperative spaces
  • aesthetic environment with brand recognition
  • psychological and physiological effects of the space