Biophilic Design: Connecting Nature & The Built Environment

How can we incorporate design with aspects of the natural world? This is where biophilic design comes into play. Biophilic design is an innovative concept that integrates parts of nature with man-made elements in which the end goal is to provide benefits to human well-being on health, productivity, performance, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels. Biophilic design originates from the concept of biophilia, originally proposed by biologist Edward O. Wilson, which is the idea that humans maintain a biological tendency to associate with nature and natural processes in both health aspects and productivity levels.  This approach emphasizes the ability of modern buildings to represent ecosystems and create a positive experience for individuals. When adding aspects of biophilic design into the built environment, there are several dimensions, elements, and attributes that are employed to achieve the goal of connecting humans, nature and the built environment. 

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A breakdown: dimensions, elements & attributes

Biophilic design includes two major dimensions: organic or naturalistic dimensions and place-based or vernacular dimensions. Organic or naturalistic dimension refers to shapes and forms within the built environment and how they directly, indirectly, or even symbolically represent features of nature. Place-based or vernacular dimensions is when landscapes or buildings connect to the ecosystem of a certain geographic location or culture.  Both dimensions of biophilic design can be incorporated through six major elements of biophilic design. These elements include environmental features, natural patterns, natural shapes and forms, light and space, location-based relationships, and lastly, the inherent human-nature relationship. Each of these six elements can be represented using so many biophilic design features and attributes. See below for 10 common attributes that are incorporated into the built environment.

Sunlight: Sunlight, or natural daylight, is a major component of biophilic design that can help improve an individual's comfort, health, and performance. This is because humans heavily rely on light for visual needs and feelings of safety and security. 

Color: Enhancing elements of biophilic design with natural colors is attractive to humans. This includes blue skies, bright colored flowers, clear waters, and other earth-representative colors and tones. 

Water: Since water is necessary for life, water acts as a unifying element of nature. Adding water-like features evokes a calming feeling through its sound and motion. Water features serve as a refreshing attribute in biophilic design. 

Plants: Plants and vegetation are instrumental in enhancing health benefits, comfort, and performance when incorporated into the built environment. Plants are such a fundamental component of human existence and adding them to biophilic design allows for benefits in many ways such as improving air quality.

Landscapes: Landscape is an important attribute since connecting buildings to geological features allows for effective design. Landscape orientation contributes to a sense of being part of a place, while landscape ecology can be implemented by considering patterns and structures such as resource flows, biodiversity and other natural systems.  

Biomimicry: Biomimetic properties are often incorporated in biophilic designs to represent natural forms and shapes of nature. This includes designs that mimic or represent spider webs, beehives, crystals and other natural forms. 

Spaciousness: Biophilic design is often implemented in open and spacious areas since people often prefer openness in both the built and natural environments in comparison to small and confined spaces. 

Natural Material: Natural-derived material is often preferred in contrast to artificial-based material. This is because natural-based material signifies life including nutrients and energy. 

Fire: Adding features of fire to a built environment can create a sense of warmth, comfort, and civilization. This can also add a sense of movement. Biophilic design sometimes uses fire-like colors to represent this attribute. 

Cultural Connection to a Place: Incorporating cultural aspects into biophilic design creates a sense of meaning and comfort to humans. This can include integration of ecology or geography of an area with individual and cultural identities. 

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