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Last edited 21 May 2018
Biophilia and building design
The term ‘biophilia’ refers to the adaption or design of a building to the environment, rather than the other way around. The meaning of the word biophilia is a love for nature and it is considered by some to be the missing part of sustainable design. Biophilic design aims to create strong connections between nature and manmade environments which can have benefits for health and wellbeing.
The term biophilia was first used by Edward Wilson in 1984 in his book ‘Biophilia’. In it, he argued that humans have an innate and evolutionarily based affinity for nature. He defined the term as referring to, ‘the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life’.
A more recent explanation was provided by Judith Heerwagen, who has undertaken extensive research into the relationship between buildings and psychological wellbeing. She suggested that ‘biophilia evolved to guide functional behaviours associated with finding, using and enjoying natural resources that aided survival and reproductive fitness – and avoiding those that are harmful.’
 Benefits of biophilia in building design
- Measurable beneficial impacts on productivity, enhancing creativity, improving wellbeing, reducing stress and enhancing learning.
- Helping engender an appreciation of nature in individuals which can lead to a greater protection of natural areas.
 Examples of biophilic design
It is possible to achieve a biophilic design in a number of ways. A simple approach is to consider the construction materials used. Log cabins are a simple design that can use ‘natural’ materials for almost every element of construction.
Ways in which biophilic design can be incorporated into sites include:
- Providing open space with naturalised or planted areas around buildings and ensuring as many windows as possible overlook those areas.
- Maintaining existing trees which will also help provide natural landscaping.
- Routing access pathways through planted areas.
- Incorporating living walls into building facades.
The design of buildings to maximise biophlia can include:
- Considering outlook to allow the maximum exposure to outdoor, natural scenes.
- Including green roofs and green facades.
- Bringing nature and planting inside buildings.
- Considering the use of water features inside buildings which can provide visual and acoustic benefits.
- The inclusion of potted plants and small internal gardens.
- The use of ‘natural’ art and natural materials in buildings.
BRE is currently engaging with a range of partners to create a live demonstration of the benefits of biophilic design on an office refurbishment. The Biophilic Office is a project on BRE's main campus at Watford, UK which involves live monitoring of occupants before and after a nature-inspired refurbishment.
Attention has largely focused on individual buildings or homes but there is increasing awareness of the importance of biophilia at the city or urban scale. It is considered that urban residents need access to nature and that creative solutions should be explored to incorporate this into urban environments.
- Cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of residents.
- Biodiverse cities, that value, protect and actively restore biodiversity.
- Green and growing cities, organic and natureful.
- Residents feel a deep affinity for the flora and fauna found there along with the climate, topography and other special qualities.
- Cities that provide abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy nature through walking, hiking, cycling or exploring.
- Rich, multisensory environments, where the sounds of nature (and other sensory experiences) are appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience.
- Cities that place importance on education about nature and biodiversity, and on providing many and varied opportunities to learn about and directly experience nature.
- Cities that invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring residents to a closer connection and understanding of nature, whether through natural history museums, wildlife centres, school-based nature initiatives, or parks and recreation programs and projects.
- Globally responsible cities that recognise the importance of actions to limit the impact of resource use on nature and biodiversity beyond their urban borders.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Biodiversity in the urban environment.
- Biodiversity offsetting.
- Biophilic design research.
- Biophilic gym.
- Compact sustainable city.
- Green infrastructure.
- Green roof.
- Green walls.
- Health and productivity in sustainable buildings.
- Landscape urbanism.
- Smart cities.
- Sustainable materials.
- The Biophilic Office.
 External references
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