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Biophilic Design

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

In my travels to show SoftForm Lighting products and explain how they support biophilic design, I get a lot of "philic what??" reactions. So what is biophilic design? The term is derived from the Greek "bio", as in biological. In this context, bio means people. And "philia" refers to those things that we like and are attracted to.

The concept of biophilia in design has its roots in the mid-80's from a book called The Biophilic Hypothesis by Edward O. Wilson. The premise of the book is that people have a natural affinity towards nature. Wilson said; "The biophilic hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connection with nature and other forms of life". Since then, researches have been trying to understand exactly what our connection with nature means to us.

Numerous studies over that past few years have begun to show that there are measurable health and wellness benefits when we are exposed to nature. One such study - Park, Bum Jim, Yuko Tsunetsugu, Tamami Kasetani, Takahide Kagawa, Yoshifumi Miyazaki. “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15:18–26,

found that simply being in a forest can reduce stress, lower pulse rates, increase the feeling of relaxation and reduce tension in the body. "OK" you say, "I get that, but what does this have to do with designing buildings"?

Since the mid-80's the design community has been focused on creating energy efficient, sustainable designs. And, as a whole, we've done a pretty good job. New buildings today are way more sustainable than ever before. And that's good. But beyond the carbon footprint and the mandated code requirements addressing energy use, sustainable design also had a big economic benefit to building owners. For example, many owners were willing to design to the LEED standard even if they weren't going to apply for the LEED certification. The economic benefit helped reduce resistance to spending money on designs anchored in sustainability. But today, that economic benefit is reaching a point of diminishing returns.

Sustainable design is now the norm and biophilic design is beginning to emerge as the next design frontier. The WELL Building Standard is a good example of this trend. Not only is it the right thing to do, the economic benefit to the building owner / occupier can be significant. This chart is telling.

Today, the energy cost for non-industrial buildings is really quite small. But, the cost of people is a major expense. In fact, it's the number one cost for any business. Anything that helps people be more productive in the workplace can potentially return huge dividends to the employer. Biophilic design is all about creating work environments that enable people to be happier and healthier and as a result, more productive in their day to day activities. And after all, employers are designing and building buildings for this very reason... to add value to their business.

In my next post I'll explore some of the design elements that relate to implementing good biophilic design practices.

- Mark

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