The term biophilia was coined by Erich Fromm a social psychologist in 1973 and defined as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive”.[1] Biophilia was later used by American biologist, Edward O. Wilson, in 1984 as the inherent human tendency toward nature.[2] Clowney held an environmental philosophical point of view and defined biophilia as an environmental virtue that provides environmentalists with fruitful strategies and motivates them to flourish as human beings.[3] Biophilic design is the art of creating a connection between nature and the built environment to improve human wellbeing and the environment. In other words, biophilic design is a missing bridge between nature and the built environment that helps create a harmony with nature and resonate with humans’ inner desire. The value of biophilic design has been well documented by studies showing the physiological and psychological benefits of reconnecting humans with nature.

Biophilic design is about regenerating human energy through integrating nature into the built environment. 

Credit: Ginkgo Sustainability

Biophilic Design Applications

Biophilic design has three main applications: direct experience of nature, indirect experience of nature, and the experience of space and place.[4,5] The implementation of these applications would be different depending on the project and its context.

The direct experience of nature refers to having direct contact with nature and natural processes including sunlight, plants, water, animals, fire, etc. The indirect experience of nature refers to the exposure of natural representation and natural analogs such as the image of nature, natural material, natural color, biomimicry, etc. The experience of space and place refers to spatial features and characteristics of the natural environment that have advanced human health and wellbeing. Examples include prospect and refuge, organized complexity, mobility, navigating and more.[5]

Biophilic Design and Biophilic Urbanism

Biophilic design can be implemented on small scales such as the interior/exterior of a building, as well as bigger scales like biophilic urbanism (See picture below). Studies have proven that biophilic design can improve mental and physical health, environmental conditions and may be economical.

The biophilic design application and its benefits at a neighborhood scale

Credit: Sempergreen

Depending on the context and the scope of the project, the importance or sequence of these benefits could vary, thus, the biophilic application and its different parameters have to be considered. In other words, different natural elements have different impacts on the human and the environment. For example, water features mainly enhance mental health while interior green walls or vertical gardens improve indoor air quality and have a great impact on human physical health.

Biophilic urbanism is more capable of optimizing the health of a city in different ways such as improving the city environment, providing economic growth for the municipality through stormwater management, and nurturing the mental health of society.[6] Researchers also indicate that the crime rate is significantly low in neighborhoods incorporated with more natural elements.[7]

The most interesting fact about biophilic application is that the human brain can differentiate between human-made nature and the natural environment. Therefore, biophilic designers should consider how the impact of nature’s direct experience on the human mind is not the same as an indirect experience. Therefore, thorough analysis of the space and understanding the project’s parameters are necessary in the designing process in order to create the intended impact.

A living roof helps reduce stormwater runoff, purifies air, creates biodiversity, among other benefits.

Credit: Ginkgo Sustainability


[1] Fromm, E. (1973). The anatomy of human destructiveness. Greenwich, CT.

[2] Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Harvard University Press.

[3] Clowney, D. (2013). Biophilia as an Environmental Virtue. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 26(5), 999–1014.

[4] Calabrese, E. F., & Dommert, A. (2018). Biophilia and the practice of Biophilic Design. Pathways to Well-Being in Design, 97–127.

[5] Kellert, S. R. and Calabrese E. F. (2018). Nature by design: The practice of biophilic design. Nature by Design: The Practice of Biophilic Design, 1–214.

[6] McGee, B., & Marshall-Baker, A. (2015). Loving nature from the inside out: A biophilia matrix identification strategy for designers. Health Environments Research and Design Journal, 8(4), 115–130.

[7] Clay, M., & Margalit, D. (2017). Seeking Parks, Plazas, and Spaces. Office Hours with a Geometric Group Theorist, 21–42.

About the Author

Asma Bashirivand

Product Designer, Biophilic and Sustainability Consultant
Ginkgo Sustainability Inc.

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