Architectural magazines are awash with the colour green and indeed, eco-everything is the zeitgeist of the post-COVID age. Many people who once had a devil-may-care attitude towards environmentalism have awakened to the vital bond we share with nature and they are turning to biophilic design to strengthen it.

Words: Marisa Cutillas

Architectural magazines are awash with the colour green and indeed, eco-everything is the zeitgeist of the post-COVID age. Many people who once had a devil-may-care attitude towards environmentalism have awakened to the vital bond we share with nature and they are turning to biophilic design to strengthen it.

Words: Marisa Cutillas

Biophilic design, in its most basic sense, involves the incorporation of natural elements into architecture and home interiors, yet its scope extends much further than simple embellishment. If green is your favourite colour and you are keen on leveraging the power of nature to make you healthier and happier, read on.

“We will never be truly healthy, satisfied, or fulfilled if we live apart and alienated from the environment from which we evolved” – Stephen R. Kellert

Why Biophilia?

Study after study has shown that human beings benefit deeply simply from being in close connection with the outdoor environment. Working in an office with indoor plants, for instance, has been found to boost performance and creativity, reduce stress, improve immunity, and promote wellness. A landmark Danish study, meanwhile, found that people who were exposed to greenery had a 55 per cent lower risk of developing mental health problems later in life than those who did not connect with nature. As much as we may be aware of the benefits of the Great Outdoors, most of us spend around 90 per cent of our time indoors. It makes sense, therefore, to ‘steal’ a little of nature’s majesty and bring it into our homes.

Who’s Loving It?

Companies like Etsy, Google, and Airbnb have embraced biophilic design via skylights, natural patterns in wallpaper and décor, and even fake window insets with video screens that mimic the appearance of skylights. One oncology centre in Anaheim, California, is oriented in such a way that patients can always look out onto greenery and other health centres have a treehouse-like design that instantly embraces patients in the majesty, beauty, and immense calm that natural surroundings can bring.

The biophilic movement is being adopted by entire cities as a means of reducing pollution and battling global warming. A 2016 report from the engineering firm Arup states that buildings should all be covered with greenery to reduce CO2 levels, reduce noise, and keep urban areas cooler. The Biophilic Cities project, which “facilitates a global network of partner cities working collectively to pursue the vision of a ‘natureful’ city within their unique and diverse environments and cultures,” is successfully demonstrating how different cities have recently incremented citizens’ access to green spaces via parks, green facades, and rooftop gardens.

Three Categories of Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is divided into three categories:

  • Nature in the Space – The direct presence of nature in interiors or exteriors in the form of plants, trees, water, a breeze, light, shadows, scents, and more.
  • Natural Analogues – The use of natural materials and nature-inspired colours, patterns, shapes in building design, facades, interior décor schemes, furniture, and small decorative touches.
  • Nature of the Space – The incorporation of spatial elements commonly encountered in nature (think stepping stones or a wooden platform over a shallow pond, spiral staircases, mezzanines, and atriums), expansive views, and the creation of refuges for the senses (for instance, a reading nook with a ceiling that is covered in hanging vines, a spa-like bathroom dressed in textured stone, a cool ‘relaxation cave’, a chair that ‘embraces’ or ‘envelops’ you, or a canopy bed).

It is easy to see how far-reaching biophilic design concepts are and the extent to which they have already influenced modern art and architecture. Just a few ideas you may find appealing for your own home include:

  • Adding a water fountain to your garden
  • Creating an open floorplan, knocking down walls, or converting opaque walls into sliding glass doors or floor-to-ceiling glass walls
  • Incorporating design elements that imitate patterns in nature – for instance, the gentle ripple of waves, the spiral design of a seashell or the gentle curve of a blade of grass
  • Stimulating the senses (including the sense of touch) by choosing textures such as rock, stone, and wood for furniture, walls, floors, and décor pieces
  • Growing a courtyard garden, green wall, and flower beds by your window sill
    Using wood for walk-in shower floors and shower benches

Airflow and Light

Two important ‘biophilic patterns’ belonging to the ‘Nature in the Space’ category cannot be physically touched yet they can make a huge difference to our wellbeing. They are:

  • Thermal and Airflow Variability: mimicking natural environments through relative humidity, subtle changes in air temperature, and the feel of air flowing against one’s skin
  • Dynamic & Diffuse Light: leveraging different intensities of light and shadow that vary throughout the day, taking into account the way that light changes from season to season

Building a Sense of Mystery

Another attractive element of biophilic design is part of the ‘Nature of the Space’ category. It taps into the human passion for mystery. It advocates for the use of partially hidden views and other sensory structures that pique our curiosity and entice us to travel deeper into a space to investigate it. Thus, an outdoor swimming pool may have a ‘cave’ that swimmers feel compelled to swim into and explore; a garden might have a labyrinth that seeks to be solved (watch out for the minotaur!); an archway may give glimpses of an appealing outdoor terrace and secret garden that begs exploration.

As stated in Interface (Ryan, 2016), “Environmental psychologists have found that Mystery conditions engender a strong pleasure response within the brain that may be a similar mechanism to that of anticipation in that we are guessing what may be around the corner. Mystery conditions typically improve preference for a space, heighten curiosity, increase interest in gaining more information, and enhance other biophilic conditions.”

You can incorporate the tenets of biophilic design into your own home by undertaking major renovations (for example, heightening ceilings or knocking down walls to allow light to flow freely through common living areas), making small design changes (for instance, replacing your current bed with a wooden canopy bed), or adding small decorative elements to your interiors (think seashells, wallpaper with floral motifs, or reclaimed wood statement pieces). All these measures can help you feel immersed in nature and enraptured by its beauty.


• Browning, W., Ryan, C., & Clancy, J. (2014). 14 patterns of biophilic design: Improving health & well-being in the built environment. Terrapin Bright Green llc.
• Gillis, K. (2018, November 19). Biophilic design: What is it? Why it matters? And how do we use it? BDC Network.
• Planteria Group. (n.d.). The three pillars of biophilic design.
• Ryan, C. (2016, June 7), 14 patterns of biophilic design. Interface.
• Schwab, K. (2019, November 4). What is biophilic design, and can it really make you happier and healthier? Fast Company.