Biophilia Goes Mainstream

After attending the Building Health Forum last week (a USGBC-NCC hosted event at UCSF in Mission Bay, San Francisco) and seeing some crazy, sexy, cool images of workplaces that incorporate biophilic design (Google ranks high, no surprise), it became clear that biophilia is no longer a concept reserved for scientists or green building geeks. It’s now an essential methodology when it comes to designing healthy and productive environments for humans.

So what exactly is biophilia? Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist, who published the book Biophilia in 1984, introduced the term. Biophilia literally means “love of life or living systems.” It describes the natural draw of human beings toward nature and things that are alive, and assumes that there is an innate connection between humans and other living systems – plants, animals, the weather, etc. Biophilic design incorporates natural elements and qualities into buildings and urban environments. A well-known example is High Line Park, an “aerial greenway” in NYC that revitalized a neighborhood.

Biophili Design

For some time now, biophilia has been one of those abstract concepts that I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around. I kept asking myself, “What is it exactly?” “How does it apply to designing spaces in the real world?” As I was doing some research, I came across a description that compared it to phobias, which helped illuminate it for me. In contrast to phobias, which are fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward places and things in nature. It describes why we are all awestruck by sunsets and delighted by rainbows – it turns out that we’re all just a bunch of biophiliacs!

The main principles of biophilic design include the following ideas: nature is random and people need refuge in a modern world as well as a connection to the environment. Terrapin Bright Green has a fantastic report that outlines the specific design elements involved, “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment.”

Biophilic design as a formal, respected and mainstream concept is making its way to the top of the list for improving health and well-being in the built environment. According to Terrapin Bright Green, “Biophilic design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing.”

Here are some other resources along with a list of session speakers. Cheers to loving life!

Biophilic Design by Stephen Keller (THE textbook on the subject)
The Economics of Biophilia by Terrapin Bright Green
Biophilia for Health & Wellness

Presented by:
Mara Baum, Healthcare Sustainable Design Leader, HOK
Mikhail Davis, Director of Restorative Enterprise, Interface
Anne Less, [e]Team Innovation Program Manager, Google
Andrea Traber, Principal, Integral Group

Written by Natasha Tuck, LEED AP BD+C