There is feng shui, and there are meditation decks, white noise fountains, serenity pools, soft lights and harmonious neutral colors to create a peaceful haven in your home. And — there is biophilic design in architecture.  It’s all intended to optimize your life by creating a healthier, less stressful living space.

According to a recent post in Houzz, while biophilic design has been around for a long while (Frank Lloyd Wright often incorporated it into his architecture) it is experiencing a resurgence with today’s architects.  Biophilia literally translates as ‘love of life’. Examples of biophilic design date back to ancient civilizations, but it wasn’t until the 1980s, that the terminology evolved thanks to American biologist E. O. Wilson who proposed that evolution has soft-wired us to prefer natural settings over built environments. In Wilson’s words, we have “an innate and genetically determined affinity … with the natural world”. Proponents of biophilic design are attempting to satisfy this instinct architecturally.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an advocate of biophilia. “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” he advised, and many of his buildings bear this out. Notably, his game-changing creation Fallingwater (pictured above) is so integrated with nature as to be inseparable.

Essential to biophilic theory is the idea that buildings aid our physical and mental health only when they are designed holistically and in tandem with nature. Green building principles emphasize responsibility to the environment and efficient use of sustainable resources, and while biophilic design embraces these aims, it focuses more on the wellbeing of the people who use the spaces.

Today, the concept of biophilia is supported by a more scientific understanding of the psychology behind building-based wellness. Some pundits believe that the inordinate amount of time we spend in built environments may contribute significantly to feelings of isolation, tension and lethargy. So, there is a growing interest in designing restorative, productive and appealing buildings that better engage with nature and are more biophilic in nature.

Some of the components of biophilic design include:

  • Natural light from windows, skylights, walls of glass
  • Exterior views; psychologists claim that people with views have a healthier outlook on life, because there is more dimension to their perspective and a sense of connection to a wider ecosystem
  • Water features such as fountains and ponds that can be seen, heard and touched
  • Sensory stimuli that reference nature: scented plants, plants that change color seasonally; open flames; tactile materials and natural fibers that reflect local ecology such as stone and timber

In a concrete, urban jungle — In the absence of real natural environments — biomimicry can be a source of biophilic design as found in organic shapes in construction and furniture. If you stop to think, geometric shapes are rarely found in nature. Color schemes derived from nature – earthen and green, water and sky tones, even images of nature, including photographs, art, murals, and sculptures, can create a biophilic effect.

An undulating, cedar-clad ceiling for instance is, as one architect noted, “the antithesis of the ubiquitous flat, white plasterboard ceiling” and is replicating more environmental shapes and forms. A buffer of green landscaping in a causeway to the street enables connection and interaction with nature for occupants and passers-by. A central courtyard allows visual connection with other areas of a structure and creates a thermal ‘lung’ for natural cooling and heating. The results are living spaces that comfort the body as naturally and effectively as they do the soul. And that’s what a biophilic environment should do.

Zen principles which are often applied in design are attempting to do the same, reflecting balance, harmony and relaxation. Despite all of our modern conveniences today, well-being and contentment often evade us, and it may just be that our home and work environments have an influence. Bring on the biophilic and namaste all around.

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