Explaining Biophilic Design, Its Principles And Why it Matters

Design comes in many forms, each one unique in its own way. While most types of design movements focus on function and form, biophilic design has an added component and serves an even greater purpose than most designs. Embracing biophilic design in our society will reconnect us with nature which is the key to solving so many of our problems, both individual and global.

If you have noticed, cities like Singapore and Copenhagen are starting to use the principles of biophilic design more to create a better living environment. No doubt, designers are starting to do a better job at following sustainable and ethical principles, but we need to speed it up. The planet is in a critical situation and will not cope for much longer if we continue to exploit it at this rate.

Biophilic design is definitely a big part of the solution.

What is Biophilic Design?

Biophilic design is simply a way to incorporate nature into design. It is mainly found in architecture, interior design, and more recently in outdoor urban spaces. It’s a way to blur the divide between modern civilization and nature itself.

However, biophilic is not as easy as it seems at first glance. Here are some ways in which we can implement it in our modern society. Some of these features are directly connected to nature like plants and others are indirectly connected like including biomorphic shapes.

Everything should fit together and blend together. Adding a few features here and there will not classify it as biophilic design.

Biophilic Design infographic

Principles of Biophilic design

01. Vegetation

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about biophilic design is plants. It’s certainly a very important part of it but not the only part as you will see below. There are various ways to add vegetation in urban areas. As well as having indoor plant areas, building green walls and roofs is equally important.

Another solution is urban forests. This is another important and clever way to integrate nature. We can create the so-called vertical forests or simply add small forested areas throughout cities.

02. Natural Lighting

The sun powers all life on earth. Without it, there would be no life. We have done an excellent job creating artificial lights that mimic natural light but nothing can quite beat the effect and feel of the sun. Letting natural light flood into buildings and cities is an easy way to create a more natural environment.

Making use of many windows will ensure more natural light entering a room. And of course, keeping blinds and curtains open for as long as possible during the day.

03. Water Features

Adding water features is often forgotten or ignored. Nevertheless, being around water has many benefits for us. Listening and looking at water has a calming effect on our minds.

One of the ways to incorporate water in architecture is to simply build near lakes or oceans for example. But that’s not the only way. There are many innovative, modern buildings that have decorative pools of water inside, indoor waterfalls (eg Singapore) and some are even built on water.

Our abilities are as limited as our imagination. Using our creativity, it’s possible to create sustainable buildings that connect us to nature, not divide us.

04. Natural Material

Natural materials include wood, bamboo, and straw bales. Though there are plenty more sustainable building materials to choose from.

In most cases, natural materials are renewable. On the other hand, man-made ones are finite and will therefore run out someday in the near future. This is the biggest bonus of using natural material. But they should also not be too processed and not have any toxic chemicals in them.

Moreover, buildings with natural materials and furniture will enhance the feeling of nature because we will literally be surrounded by materials found in nature.

05. Permeable Material

Currently, we are building cities with only impermeable material. Whereas nature mainly consists of permeable material. While using tar and concrete does have some benefits, it’s important to start using more porous material for our roads and pavements. Thanks to technology this is now possible so why continue with destructive materials that are harming the environment?

It will allow water to follow its natural cycle and won’t obstruct the natural flow of nutrients either. This is the basis of sponge cities. A concept where urban spaces allow for natural systems to continue. Other ways to develop sponge cities include adding natural flood barriers, forests, and parks.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to biophilic design.

06. Good Ventilation

Good ventilation and fresh air are essential in sustainable architecture.

In addition, airflow will ensure variability in temperature which is yet another way to create a healthier environment within our living spaces. In the outdoors, temperature, humidity, etc never stay the same. It changes throughout the day. We should aim to do the same because it benefits both our productivity and focus.

07. Biomorphic Shapes

It is also beneficial to add components that look like nature. In the cases where it’s impossible to include actual features of nature, using components and shapes that look like it can be just as effective.

Biomorphic shapes can include any kind of shapes or patterns found in nature. Inspiration can come from trees, leaves, mountains, seashells, fossils, and more. We could even create textures that are naturally found in nature to make them more realistic.

08. More Outdoor Space

Humans are not meant to be stuck inside all day long. Therefore it only makes sense to create more outdoor spaces for ourselves whether it is balconies, patios, or parks. This will make nature more accessible to us since nature will be on our doorstep.

2020 made it clear that we need nature and the outdoors to function well. It benefits our physical and mental health and allows for more rounded lives. Most outdoor spaces in cities are just concrete with some random trees distributed across them. This is not enough. This is not biophilia.

09. Natural Colors

Use natural, neutral, and warm colors that are found in nature to create a feeling of the outdoors. To create a ‘jungle’ in our homes and workspaces, picking the right colors is key. Different colors can spark different emotions in us. By using the right ones, we could create a calming and serene place that can help us become more productive as well as more peaceful.

Being surrounded by plain grey monotonous colors will not make us feel welcome and could create feelings of sadness and anxiety.

10. Nature Art

Coupled with having actual plants and natural features, choosing artwork inspired by the outdoors can help complete the look of a room or building. Wall prints, wall hangings, and paintings are all great choices that can bring part of nature into our buildings.

They don’t even need to be of direct elements of nature like plants or landscapes. Even having abstract shapes and patterns with the right colors can make us think of nature. After all, art and design is all about emotion and feeling.

11. Biomimicry

Biomimicry is a way to take ideas of how systems and individual elements work in nature and apply the same principles in our lives. It’s possible to create rooms and buildings that mimic nature.

Biomimicry is used a lot in technology but it can be used in architecture too. Nature holds the answers to many of our questions. If we connect and look deeper into nature, it could help us in our own lives and make them better. There are some stunning examples of biomimetic architecture that use nature as a model.

12. The location

It’s not just about how to create a building, it’s also about where to build it. Having a home or office that overlooks nature is far better than one that looks over demolished buildings. The end goal would be to create cities that blur the line between what’s man-made and what’s natural. Therefore all buildings will be surrounded by other similar biophilic buildings that also look spectacular.

13. Non-disruptive

Our society is disconnected from nature and everything we are buildings and creating is destroying ecosystems and killing wildlife. Biophilic architecture needs to focus on not disrupting natural ecosystems. Or at least focus on creating a very low impact on the surrounding environment.

There are talented architects that have successfully blended infrastructure into nature that doesn’t harm wildlife and allows us to continue with our lives as normal. Nature shouldn’t suffer because of us. We should both thrive alongside each other.

Related: How to Design a Sustainable City

Why is Biophilic Design Important: The Benefits

Humans, even though we don’t act like it, are part of nature. Subsequently, we need nature for optimal living. Many studies show how being in nature improves our quality of life.

It’s important society reconnects to nature because it will be the only way to get ourselves out of this critical situation we have dug ourselves into. Climate change that is.

The benefits of biophilic design are split into two sections. Benefits seen on an individual level and those seen on a larger scale or even a global scale. It’s clear that incorporating nature into our lives has benefits, for us and nature, so now it’s time to implement it. The whole world needs to adopt this type of design.

Creates a Healthier Environment

As biophilic design aims to mimic nature, being in these kinds of rooms and spaces has similar health benefits to spending time in nature. Some of these include less stress, better sleep, and better for our eyes.

Did you that humans heal faster when exposed to nature too? This is why recovering patients are advised to take time in nature to speed up their recovery.

Additionally, variability in temperature and lighting for instance is proven to benefit our health and our work performance.


When individuals are surrounded by plants, hear calming sounds from nature and have fresh air coming in, they feel calmer and more at ease. As opposed to listening to the traffic noise outside and looking at boring walls.

It’s undeniable that working or living somewhere with nature is better than the typical working environment. It’s important for individuals to feel comfortable where they are. Too many individuals in our society feel anxiety and stress in their everyday lives.

Increases Productivity

Working in a more enjoyable environment has many benefits in itself. One of which is increased productivity. It is proven that people surrounded by biophilia feel more productive during work.

When people feel good and happy with where they are, are become more excited to do the work. Being forced to work in a space that you hate, will only slow down progress.

Increases Creativity

Individuals who spend more time in nature tend to be more creative, compared to those working in offices with no sign of nature. One of the reasons is because they are surrounded by life and inspiration. Input is just as important as output when it comes to designing and creating. When rooms are boring and lifeless, it can be difficult to come up with ideas for a new project.

Therefore if we bring nature to the places we live and work, we will have more creative ideas during the day.

While the ones above focused largely on how biophilic design benefits individuals, here are some of the ways it can have an impact on a larger scale:

Reduce Carbon Footprint of Buildings

Vegetation takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and one of the biggest culprits of climate change. By adding more plants and vegetation, we are taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and reduce the carbon footprint of a building.

Another way in which biophilic design reduces its carbon footprint lies in energy consumption. Since this type of design, takes advantage of natural lighting, it reduces the demand for artificial lighting.

As trees absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they also help reduce air pollution. At this current time, many are killed by air pollution. Planting inside as well as outside will help clear the air and create more livable spaces for us.

Reduce Flooding

If we add more permeable materials and add green walls and urban forests, water will not run off into rivers and saturate them, water will pass through and flow naturally. Flooding is becoming an increasingly pressing problem around the world due to climate change.

A key factor to protecting cities from the effects of climate change is to make them more resistant to extreme weather conditions like flooding. As mentioned above, transforming our cities into sponge cities will be one of the deciding factors to a city’s survival.

Reduce Noise Pollution

Did you know that trees and vegetation, in general, can reduce noise levels? The reduction of noise pollution is a benefit of plants that is overlooked or more often than not, forgotten.

This applies to both indoor and outdoor environments. Plants act as noise absorbers. Their leaves, stem, and the plant as a whole. As well as absorbing the sound, they also deflect and refract it. When placed near the walls, for example, when the sound waves hit the walls, they are reflected into the vegetation.

Reduce Temperatures

Climate change is constantly increasing global temperatures. Therefore, doing our best to reduce the temperature of buildings and cities will become a necessity. The way this is done is through trees and vegetation.

For one, trees provide shade. Plants also transpire which is the process of water evaporation through their leaves. This affects the humidity of the air and therefore the temperature. This evaporation creates a cooling effect. In general, plants help keep the climate of its surrounding stable.

Moreover, planting trees and vegetation is thought to be a natural way of reducing the speed of climate change. Therefore in the longterm, trees could aid the reduction of temperatures globally, not just in a city.

Biophilic Design In The Modern World

Adding some greenery and plants in some buildings alone, will not create a biophilic environment. It’s not as simple as that. Biophilic design is so much more than that. Biophilic design is about how the space is used, choosing the right shapes and patterns, and effectively adding the right features.

At this moment in time, nature comes last when it comes to designing interiors or buildings. All that will change in the near future. As more realize the benefits and importance of having nature in our lives, creating biophilic design will become the primary goal.

Especially with climate change becoming a more serious problem, more designers will start following this ‘trend’. Soon it will no longer be just a trend, it will be the norm.

All images from Unsplash

Sofia Hadjiosif
Sofia Hadjiosif

I've always cared about the planet but never knew how I could use my skills to create an impact. But that's when I decided to start Terra Movement. To get other creatives involved in the climate movement and inspire more people to help the planet and its people.

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