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Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and the natural world of which people are part – within our built environments and communities. If we think about design as creatively solving the puzzle of look, feel and function, then biophilic design turns to nature for solutions. It is intuitive and fundamental to good design at every step, not an aesthetic trend or afterthought – it’s a way of thinking and working.

Biophilic design in the built environment is an expression of the relationship between nature, human biology and buildings. It requires a sensory approach to the act of design that considers what a place looks, smells and feels like over time. The holistic nature of biophilic design means that it is often implemented through a collaborative cross-disciplinary approach.

Buildings designed with biophilic design as a foundational philosophy are experienced, not just used. They allow humans to gain the benefits of living in spaces that foster a connection to nature.

Fractals as seen in nature through a snowflake are reflected in the Muqarnas dome of Iranian architecture.

Humans have been practising biophilic design for as long as we’ve been building.

Nature themes can be found in the earliest human works: from Indigenous Australian structures to the Egyptian sphinx. Modern adaptions of biophilic design can be seen in the organic curvature of art nouveau, lavish indoor or vertical gardens and the use of natural elements materials.

“Biophilic design is the deliberate attempt to translate an understanding of the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes—known as biophilia—into the design of the built environment.”

Stephen Kellert

Biophilic design as a concept was defined and explored in depth by Stephen Kellert in Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life and Terrapin Bright Green’s 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design – both seminal works in biophilic design theory.

These works outlined elements of biophilic design that could be used in practice to foster biophilia. Biophilic design emerged as a philosophy rather than an aesthetic, style or trend.

Plants are incorporated into the offices at 60 Union Street to connect with nature as we would in the outdoors. (Image courtesy Junglefy)

Biophilic Design and the Living Future Institute

The Living Building Challenge™ calls for buildings that operate as ‘clean and efficient as a flower.’ This holistic, regenerative design framework weaves elements of biophilic design throughout.

It also has a specific biophilic design requirement as part of the standard (Imperative I-09). The project must be designed to include biophilic elements that nurture human-nature connections.

Each project must include a biophilic framework and plan that outlines:

  • How the project will be transformed by deliberately incorporating nature through Environmental Features, Light and Space, and Natural Shapes and Forms.
  • How the project will be transformed by deliberately incorporating nature’s patterns through Natural Patterns and Processes and Evolved Human-Nature Relationships.
  • How the project will be uniquely connected to the place, climate and culture through Place-Based Relationships.
  • How the project will provide sufficient and frequent human-nature interactions in both the interior and exterior of the project to connect the majority of occupants with nature directly.

The plan must contain tracking methods at each design phase and should include a cultural and ecological study that thoroughly examines the site and context of the project.

WATCH: Amanda Sturgeon (former ILFI CEO and author of Creating Biophilic Buildings) talk about biophilic design and the International Living Future Institute.

Biophilia and biophilic design are key components of Living Future programs. To support projects in Australia, the Living Future Institute of Australia (working with the Biophilic Design Initiative) provides workshops, events and training to build an understanding of the biophilic design philosophy.


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