Last edited 03 Apr 2019

Main author

KLH Sustainability Other Consultant Website

Biophilic design and sustainability

The concept of biophilic design could arguably be dated back to the hanging gardens of Babylon. Biophilic design stems from biophilia; the innate human need to connect with nature. Biophilic design focuses on enabling a human connection to nature in the built environment, resulting in improvements to our health and wellbeing. Benefits range from the personal, such as improved blood flow, heart rate and stress levels to business, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and employee retention.

Biophilic design has gained traction over the decades as global, rapid urbanisation has made it more difficult for people to connect with the natural world, and there is an increasing evidence base demonstrating the correlation between neuroscience and architecture.

Statistics such as 55% of the world’s population currently living in urban areas, with this figure due to reach 68% by 2050 and the surprising fact that people spend 90% of their time indoors or in cars have pushed the biophilic design conversation even further.

The design firm Terrapin published 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, which is useful for exploring design opportunities and natural material selection beyond the common misconception that biophilic design means adding a couple of potted plants and shrubbery. The report details the human benefits to selecting each biophilic design pattern such as adding water features to help lower stress and blood pressure, selecting kinetic facades to energise and stimulate employees and matching lighting with circadian rhythms to boost employee alertness.

As people have become aware of these benefits, biophilic design popularity has sky rocketed; even finding a prominent position in new certification schemes such as the WELL Building Standard.

Looking beyond health implications, biophilic design can also bring broader sustainability benefits.

Project teams are turning to sustainable materials with lower embodied carbon such as local stone, timber and cork. Exposed natural finishes including architectural concrete reduces the need for finishing materials and on-going maintenance, as well as providing a heft of thermal mass to help reduce operational energy demands.

The carpet tile, commonly a carbon intensive product and one that almost always ends up in landfill at the end of its natural life, has become increasingly sustainable. Carpet tiles made from recycled material by manufacturers such as Desso and Interface can now reduce a project’s carpet carbon footprint by 250%. Selecting sustainable carpet tiles, with a biomorphic form or pattern such as Fibonacci series can enhance concentration in building occupants. With these small selections, an entire office space can feel more interesting and comfortable, contemplative or even absorptive as compared to carpet tiles without these patterns.

To maximise the human and environmental benefits of biophilic design requires early consideration by client, architect, engineer and interior designer.

--KLH Sustainability 13:33, 05 Feb 2019 (BST)

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki