What the Heck is Biophilia?

What the Heck is Biophilia?

Guest Post by Jessica McNaughton, President of Caragreen

Biophilia?  No, it is not some nefarious relationship with plants.   Well, not entirely.   This hot new design trend is not some “look” or color scheme, it’s a set of design techniques that put people before profits in building construction. While some people are quick to put biophilic design in the category of “another green building standard,” it is absolutely not.

Biophilic design has made its entrée into the design community with data in hand to back up its claims. Unlike some other green building standards, which needed to be put in place and operated for some time in order to prove that they were worthwhile (think Green Globes, LEED), biophilic principles have existed for decades and their results are widely known. It is just now that design professionals and researchers are pulling these together en masse and presenting them under the umbrella of biophilic design.

There are three pillars of Biophilic Design: Nature in the Space, Nature of the Space and Natural Analogues. To simplify, Nature in the Space is literally incorporating nature into the space. Adding water, plants, fish ponds, herbs, to an indoor environment. Nature of the Space is about orientation within the building and how things are positioned and designed to create a more comfortable layout for occupants. Natural Analogues are furnishings, building features or fixtures that emulate something natural, like trees, clouds or water. These three pillars contain fourteen principles, which can be incorporated into the design.

By definition, humans are drawn to nature and natural things. Nature stimulates the parasympathetic system and lowers stress. Studies have shown that walks outside, being around trees and nature in general lower stress levels.  Studies also show that employees are more productive, hospital stays are shorter and patients use less medication, and student absenteeism is reduced when biophilic design is used. The data exists and it is compelling.   That is why the architect and design community is embracing the biophilic concepts in their upcoming projects. It is not a ground-up concept either, biophilic design can be incorporated after the fact using plants or greenery, reconfiguring furniture, incorporating sound control or in a myriad of other ways.

Biophilic design is not a credit based standard either, where you need to achieve a number of points in order to hit a certification level. It is not some placard you mount on your building to give yourselves a high-five for building green. It is about the health of the building occupants and it is not an all-or-nothing approach. You can use one design element or hundreds of instances. It is whatever works for your space.

Biophilia is not some scary reincarnation of the many green standards that have confused and fatigued the design and construction world. It is a design concept that puts people and their health first, and makes occupant well-being the top priority in design. Who wouldn’t want to live or work in a space like that?


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