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What is Biophilia?

The term “biophilia” was popularized by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1960s. In his work, he used biophilia (bio, ‘life’ and philia, ‘friendly feeling toward’) to describe the biological drive toward self-preservation. Formally used in Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), biophilia was defined as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive.”

In the 1970s American biologist, Edward O. Wilson extended the word’s meaning, to denote “the rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms.” In his best-known work, Biophilia (1984), Wilson used the term to describe the genetic drive to focus on and affiliate with nature and other life forms. This prompted researchers in a wide range of fields including the built environment to explore the phenomenon.

Biophilia is more than a preference, it's an instinct

Biophilia is more than a love of nature and it isn’t reserved for people with a preference for the outdoors. It is humans’ instinctual tendency to seek connections with nature that we evolved with. This is the concept of ‘environment of evolutionary adaptedness’.

The environment of our ancestral past has shaped the human-animal that we are today. As a species, we haven’t evolved from our pre-agrarian ancestral form, but our environment has changed drastically. Biophilia is remnant biology inherited from our predecessors that deeply couples us with nature in all its complexity.

It isn’t a matter of preference, biophilia has been shown to enhance our mental and physical health, and help us reach our optimum potential. In our modern habitat – a built environment that has traditionally separated us from the natural world – we are neglecting our need to connect with nature.

In our modern habitat – a built environment that has traditionally separated us from the natural world – we too often neglect our inherent need to connect with nature.  Thanks to the study of biophilia, today there is increasing awareness of the importance of biophilia to our wellbeing, and many resources to support its integration into the places we create.

Have you experienced biophilia?

The relaxing effect of the colour green or rejuvenation of a bushwalk.

Seeking out vantage points that allow you to survey the surrounding landscape.

The hypnotic effect of a fire.

Our attraction to landscapes with water.

The study of biophilia

The Biophilia Hypothesis (1993), co-edited by Wilson and American social ecologist Stephen R. Kellert, aimed to amplify and refine the concept of biophilia from a variety of perspectives – psychological, biological, cultural, symbolic, and aesthetic. It presented empirical evidence that implied detriment to human wellbeing with continued detachment from the natural world.

If the built environment is our habitat, how can we incorporate biophilia in the most meaningful way possible?

Biophilic Design

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