Biophilia - Nurturing a love of place

part 1

Hanging Garden, AgFacadesign, Singapore

Hanging Garden, AgFacadesign, Singapore


Well, the truth being far from it yet it is new enough for the London arena of interior designers.

Many friends know how sensitive I am to the idea of space that should equally balance the yin yang elements, where solutions are found in tangibles forms easily measurable by ways of observation and other intangible values associated more to correlative thinking through the ancient Chinese Feng Shui School, a system based on laws governing spatial order and orientation in relation to the flow of Qi to create balance and harmony with oneself and the environment. 

At this year's London Clerkenwell Design Week, I was invited to an inspirational talk on Biophilia - exploring the positive impact of nature-inspired design and well-being hosted by Oliver Heath, who shed light onto what people generally have a sense of but never gave it a name. That is the human inner tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life in their everyday go-about-living, in particular in their homes and workplaces. 

The word Biophilia was originally attributed to psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm, who defined it as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive" in his Anatomy of Human Destructivenesslater used by biologist Edward O. Wilson in his work Biophilia (1984), to explain the human tendency to relate with nature and other life-forms as part of their DNA.

We do not love nature because it's simply beautiful. We find beauty in nature because we are part of it and it is a part of us, the yin yang constantly interchanging, in a dependable transforming life-cycle.

Honest arguments as to the most effective methods to fulfil obligations to nature, and how best to balance the needs of nature with those of humankind are many, but it goes against our instincts to dismiss the natural world or to wish it harm, just as it goes against our nature to neglect and do us harm.

This helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us and why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights spark fascination and fear, and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. If we simply look at the etymology of the word itself, Philia already describes the attraction to positive feelings that people have towards organisms, species, habitats, processes and objects in the natural surroundings just unlike Phobias which on the  contrary, are irrational fears towards things and the environment. 

So, as easy as it may seem, let's please have tons of the former and none of the latter.

One thing is certain, if we could use these mere concepts in our designs, we could help reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, as well as improve our well-being and help ease healing. Humankind’s search to reconnect with nature has become now more than ever, a necessity to nurture natural living spaces with less stress and greater overall well-being. 

So what exactly is Biophilia design? 

A simple tool to harmonise our living patterns according to nature in a man-made environment but with mesmerising effects on our mind-body system seen from an emotional, psychological and physical point of view. 

It is the design for people seen as biological organisms where good biophilia draws from tangible and intangible experiences to create spaces that are inspirational, restorative and healthy, able to merge our earthly purpose with the ecosystem. This way we can achieve a complete circling yin-yang mind-body experience for the start of a balanced transformation that begins within us, where there is Earth, Heaven and Human.

Photograph by Antonio Mora

Photograph by Antonio Mora


Where routine connections with nature can provide opportunities to unwind, during which time our higher cognitive functions can sometimes take a break. As a result, our capacity for performing focused tasks is improved. 


Where responses to nature can impact our rest and stress management and when experiences of natural environments provide greater emotional benefits, with lower instances of tension, anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion and total mood disturbance than urban environments with limited characteristics of nature.


Where responses triggered by exposure to nature include relaxation of muscles, as well as lowering of diastolic blood pressure and stress hormone (i.e., cortisol) levels in the blood stream. 


How can we use biophilia?

The Terrapin Bright Green, a Certified B Corporation has divided Biophilia Design into 3 main concepts and 14 sub-patterns by publishing a report titled "Biophilia - Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment".

The Barbican Centre, London

The Barbican Centre, London

1. Nature in the Space

Addressing the direct, physical and ephemeral presence of nature in a space or place. This includes plant life, water and animals, as well as breezes, sounds, scents and other natural elements following these patterns:

Visual Connection with Nature. A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.

Non-Visual Connection with Nature. Auditory, haptic, olfactory , or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.

Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli. Aleatory and ephemeral connections with nature that may be analysed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.

Thermal and Airflow Variability. Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.

Presence of Water. A condition that enhances the experience of a place through seeing, hearing or touching water.

Dynamic and Diffuse Light. Varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.

Connection with Natural Systems. Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes of our ecosystem.

Naturescape by Kengo Kuma,  Dezeen

Naturescape by Kengo Kuma, Dezeen

2. Natural Analogues 

Addresses organic, non-living and indirect imitations of nature. Objects, materials, colours, shapes, sequences and patterns found in nature and manifested as artwork, decorations, furniture, and textiles in the built environment.

Biomorphic Forms and Patterns. Symbolic references to shaped, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements taken from nature.

Material Connection with Nature. Materials and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology and create a distinct sense of place.

Complexity and Order. Rich sensory information according to a spatial hierarchy similar to that encountered in nature.

Zumthor's House

Zumthor's House

3. Nature of the Space

Addresses spatial configurations in nature. This includes our innate and learned desire to be able to see beyond our immediate surroundings, our fascination with the slightly dangerous or unknown; obscured views and revelatory moments

Prospect. A clear, unobstructed view over a distance, for surveillance and planning.

Refuge. A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.

Mystery. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that attracts the individual to travel deeper into the environment.

Risk/Peril. An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable safeguard

A short case-history

Squarespace Headquarters, New York

Formerly a printing press, the historic, 12-storey Maltz Building now houses Squarespace main Head Office on the top three floors, with interiors designed by New York firm A+I.

The company founders not only did they want to come together with their 322 employees into a single space, but also wished to create more diverse spaces for working and collaborating in a space imbued with texture, richness and warmth. The Architects carefully assimilated the essential needs of the company by which they deduced a wide variety of working environments ranging from formal to informal needed to be introduced and merged into one wholistic space. 

Yin Yang monochromatic colours set the theme for a crude material palette intended for this urban setting where plants and accent earthy elements add splashes of green and warmth across the offices. Though the widespread use of cement within this space brings clear assonances to an industrial meta-architecture, the overall impact is nonetheless welcoming and relaxed. People still work, do their thinking, they seem to collaborate and socialise proving to be very impactful and positive for the overall work flow.