How to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't

How to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't

In the bustling world we inhabit, where the urban landscape often overshadows the natural beauty that once nurtured our souls, emerges a design philosophy that promises to reconnect us with the essence of life itself.
Biophilic design, a symphony of human ingenuity and nature's splendor, offers a pathway back to our roots. But how do we truly discern what embodies this profound design philosophy and what falls short?
Learn in this article the different principles of biophilic design, why it is important for our human development, how to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't, and remarkable examples of this practice.

In an era dominated by urban landscapes and technological advancements, the yearning for a deeper connection to nature has never been more palpable. Biophilic design, a concept that tries to bridge the gap between our constructed surroundings and the natural world, comes into play. But what exactly is biophilic design, and how can we differentiate between authentic applications and mere imitations? In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of biophilic design, explore its core principles, and provide insights into distinguishing what is biophilic design and what isn't.

1. What is biophilic design

2. Why biophilic design matters

3. How to discern authentic biophilic design

4. How to incorporate biophilic design into your own space

5. Biophilic design practices

6. Final thoughts

     How to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't

    What is biophilic design?

    Biophilic design has emerged as a profound response to humanity's intrinsic connection to nature. It encompasses a holistic approach that goes beyond the mere incorporation of greenery and natural elements into built environments. True biophilic design is an embodiment of the symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment, where architecture and nature coalesce to create spaces that inspire, heal, and nurture.

    At its core, biophilic design seeks to ignite an authentic emotional bond between occupants and the natural world. It draws inspiration from nature's intricate patterns, fractals, and processes that have evolved over millions of years. The design philosophy is rooted in the biophilia hypothesis proposed by biologist E.O. Wilson, asserting that humans possess an innate inclination to connect with other forms of life. This biological connection is a result of our evolutionary history and is deeply ingrained in our psychological makeup.

    Genuine biophilic design extends beyond superficial aesthetics. It embraces principles such as biomimicry, where architectural forms and functions imitate nature's efficiency and elegance. The layout of a space might mimic the branching structure of trees, allowing for a seamless flow of movement. Materials used might mirror the colors and textures found in natural landscapes, invoking a sense of familiarity and comfort.

    Furthermore, biophilic design considers the multisensory aspects of human experience. It engages not only the sense of sight but also touch, sound, and even scent. Incorporating elements like flowing water features that provide auditory tranquility, textures that beg to be touched, and fragrances reminiscent of lush forests can evoke a truly immersive experience.

    This design philosophy also recognizes the importance of variability and diversity in nature. Authentic biophilic design encourages the creation of spaces that change over time, reflecting the dynamic nature of natural environments. This might involve adjusting lighting levels based on the time of day or incorporating movable elements that allow occupants to customize their surroundings.

    In essence, biophilic design aims to transcend the boundaries between the constructed and the organic, fostering spaces that nourish both the body and the soul. It's about invoking the primal feeling of stepping into a sun-dappled forest or beside a babbling brook, even when surrounded by concrete and glass. The intention is to imbue the often sterile environments of modern living with the life-affirming qualities found in lush forests and flowing streams. Through this lens, biophilic design becomes a vessel for reconnecting with the profound essence of life itself.

    Nature Art Gallery (12 Art Posters w/ frames)

    Nature Art Gallery (12 Art Posters w/ frames)

    Why biophilic design matters

    Understanding the importance of biophilic design is crucial in distinguishing what is biophilic design and what isn't. Let's delve deeper into why biophilic design matters and how it addresses these critical issues.

    The positive relationship between humans and nature has been well-documented for ages. And we don’t necessarily need studies to understand it –  think about how you feel after going on a long hike or sitting in the sun. A love of nature is written into our DNA.

    Bringing natural elements into our spaces has some of the same positive psychological effects. A 2015 University of Surrey study found that adding just a few biophilic interior details like plants, water features, and views of nature reduces stress levels for occupants and even increases pain tolerances. And this National Taiwan University study found that some of the top biophilic design elements for improving physiological and psychological health were natural images, natural materials, and plants. 

    Coulthard’s Biophilia: You + Nature + Home is a user-friendly handbook explaining the benefits of “bringing the natural world into your home.” She notes the overlap between the built environment and nature through sustainable building materials, indoor/outdoor living, and our bodies’ natural rhythms with the earth (did you know morning light exposure can help regulate your sleep schedule?). In these ways, biophilic design is less about buying a few plants or wooden home decor items and more about living in tune with the natural world.

    “Biophilia isn’t just about surface materials or colors. You can’t buy biophilia off a shelf,” says Coulthard. “It’s about going deeper into the human experience and working out why so many of our living spaces aren’t working for us.” Think about the headache you might get from the office’s fluorescent lights or the frustration of being woken by car horns. Then imagine the peace of bringing a hot beverage outside in the morning or falling asleep to crickets. 

    How to discern authentic biophilic design

    Genuine biophilic design finds its home in environments that respect the delicate balance between human comfort and nature's grandeur. Spaces that incorporate authentic biophilic design are characterized by a thoughtful interplay of natural light, materials, and living elements. Here are 3 distinct features of bioliphic design, that will aid you in recognizing its true essence.

    Focus on beneficial natural aspects

    Biophilic design centers on incorporating elements from the natural world that have historically contributed to human health and productivity. Aspects that are unrelated or offer limited sustained benefits to people, such as desert or deep-sea habitats, microorganisms, alien species, extinct species, or obscure elements, are not considered integral to biophilic design.

    Emphasis on integrated habitats

    Biophilic design places importance on the overall setting or habitat rather than isolated instances of nature. Organisms exist within interconnected environments, forming integrated ecosystems. When the habitat supports the organisms, the ecosystem performs synergistically. In contrast, disjointed and unrelated elements within a habitat offer minimal benefits and might even be detrimental to its inhabitants. Biophilic design involves integrating natural elements into the built environment in a way that aligns with the dominant characteristics of the setting, contributing positively to the health and performance of occupants.

    Engagement and repeated contact with nature

    Biophilia, the inclination to connect with nature, is a malleable trait that requires learning and experience to fully develop. Biophilic design emphasizes continuous and repetitive interaction with nature rather than sporadic or temporary encounters. The effectiveness of biophilic design depends on nurturing regular and reinforcing contact with the natural world, acknowledging that biophilia is not hard-wired but can be cultivated through repeated experiences.

    These distinct features give rise to a set of five conditions that underpin the effective practice of biophilic design. Each condition serves to discern what is biophilic design and what isn’t:

    1. Biophilic design centers on the ways in which human adaptations to the natural world, developed over evolutionary periods, have played a pivotal role in advancing human health, fitness, and overall well-being. Natural exposures that lack relevance to human productivity and survival have negligible effects on well-being and fail to qualify as effective instances of biophilic design.
    2. The success of biophilic design hinges on consistent and enduring engagement with the natural environment. Occasional, fleeting, or isolated encounters with nature result in only superficial and temporary impacts on individuals, and in certain cases, may even contradict the goal of promoting positive outcomes.
    3. Biophilic design necessitates the integration and reinforcement of design interventions that harmonize with the overall context or space. The optimal functioning of all living organisms relies on immersion within habitats where the various elements coalesce into a coherent, reinforcing, and interconnected whole. Exposure to nature within a disconnected space – like an isolated plant, an incongruous depiction of nature, or a natural material in contrast to dominant spatial features – does not exemplify effective biophilic design.
    4. Biophilic design cultivates emotional bonds with settings and places. By addressing our inherent inclination to connect with nature, biophilic design cultivates an emotional affinity for specific spaces and locations. These emotional ties enhance human performance and productivity, motivating us to identify with and nurture the places we inhabit.
    5. Biophilic design nurtures positive and enduring interactions and relationships between people and their environment. As inherently social beings, humans rely on positive interactions within their spatial surroundings for security and productivity. Effective biophilic design fosters connections between individuals and their environment, enriching feelings of belonging and engendering a sense of community membership with significance.

    Now that you have a solid understanding of how to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't, let's explore how particular practices of biophilic design can be employed to help implement positive and beneficial outcomes.

    Biophilic design practices

    1. Direct experience of nature

    Spaces that allow direct experience of Light, Air, Water, Plants, Animals, Weather, and Natural Landscapes and Ecosystems. Here are some projects employing direct experience of nature.

    A pavilion where lighting mimics branches, leaves and chipmunks

    For this structure, designers used projections that seem to drift with the wind.

    A Pavilion Where Lighting Mimics Branches, Leaves—and Chipmunks

    Source: Metropolis

    Outside Tulum SFER IK

    Nestled within the heart of the Mayan jungle, this cultural center does not have any flat floors or ceilings. Its composition predominantly consists of indigenous timber, vibrant living trees, and intertwining vines.

    Tulum SFER

     Source: Metropolis

    A neighborhood in France

    Édouard François's most recent plant-adorned building emerges in Nice, France, under the name Le Ray. The architect aspires for this structure to serve as a guide towards a more environmentally conscious approach to both construction and lifestyle.

    Édouard François’s

    Source: Metropolis

    2. Indirect experience of nature

    Nature represented by these elements: Images of Nature, Natural Materials, Natural Colors, Mobility and Wayfinding, Cultural and, Ecological Attachment to Place, Simulating Natural Light and Air, Naturalistic Shapes and Forms, Evoking Nature, Information Richness, Natural Geometries, Biomimicry, and Age, Change, and the Patina of Time. Here are some projects employing indirect experience of nature.

    A hotel in downtown Nashville

    Concealed by a veil of ivy, the recently established 1 Hotel in Nashville celebrates the natural beauty of local and sustainable resources.

    1 Hotel

    Source: Metropolis

    A behavioral health hospital

    CannonDesign integrated the concepts of Moses Sheppard, a reformer from the 19th century, into the design of this novel psychiatric hospital.

    CannonDesign psychiatric Hospital

    Source: Metropolis

    3. Experience of space and place

    Biophilia can also be achieved through these approaches: Prospect and Refuge, Organized Complexity, Integration of Parts to Wholes, and Transitional Spaces. Here are some projects employing experience of space and place.

    A medical center expansion by NBBJ

    In December 2020, the St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale, Washington unveiled its ten-story, 612,000-square-foot expansion. The expansive panorama of the Olympic Mountains from the facility offers patients a feeling of solace and a strong sense of connection.

    St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale

    Source: Metropolis

    Ketra's showroom

    An innovative Ketra showroom has been established, offering designers the opportunity to visualize how various materials, furniture, and food appear when illuminated by the company's diverse range of lighting solutions.

    Ketra showroom

    Source: Metropolis

    How To Incorporate Biophilic Design Into Your Own Space

    Add plants 

    This one is quite obvious, but we suggest going deeper than just buying a few plants from Forest Homes and calling it a day. As anyone with houseplants knows, keeping them alive isn’t a walk in the park. Research your plant type’s water, sunlight, soil, and humidity needs. And if it starts to ail, look up how to fix it! No one is born with a green thumb, but with Google at your fingertips, you can develop one.

    Prioritize natural materials

    In the market for a new piece of furniture or decor? Look for goods made of natural materials, like Block oak table stoolHiran bamboo table or Stala oak side table

    Stala Oak Slice Side Table

    Stala oak slice side table

    Mimic nature with your design elements

    Even natural colors or images of nature work here, too. Consider an earthy color palette full of greens and blues or pictures of the natural world the next time you’re looking for a framed wall print. Look for shapes that mimic the natural world, too, like circular furniture or an asymmetrical lighting element.

    Green Circle Decorative Moss Wall Art

    Highlight outdoor views and natural light

    We can’t always control the amount of natural light coming into our spaces, but we can make the most of what we have. Arrange seating next to windows to get more sunlight while you’re indoors, and if you’re lucky enough to have gorgeous outdoor views, highlight them with sheer curtains and attention-grabbing plants.

    White Linen Curtains (Tunnel Top)

    Maximize any outdoor space

    You might have to head to the park for outdoor time. But if you have a balcony, patio, or yard, make the most of them with some seating and any decor that’ll pull you to spend time there - string lights, plants, outdoor rugs, etc

    swing with plants on the side

    Final Thoughts

    As the allure of biophilic design captures the imagination of designers and occupants alike, the need to differentiate between what is biophilic design and what isn't becomes paramount. True biophilic design isn't skin-deep; it's a philosophy that honors the intricate relationships between humans and the natural world. By understanding its essence, acknowledging its champions, and discerning its principles, we can navigate the landscape of design with confidence, ensuring that the spaces we create are not just imitations but authentic expressions of our innate connection with nature.

    If you're inspired to embark on your own biophilic design journey, we invite you to explore further. Visit the Forest Homes website, where you can discover a range of natural interior decor options that will help you infuse your living spaces with the essence of biophilic design. Let the beauty of nature flourish within your home, enriching your daily life and fostering a harmonious relationship with the world around you.

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