Bringing the Outdoors In: The Benefits of Biophilia (2024)

Bringing the Outdoors In: The Benefits of Biophilia (1)

Maria McCain (Alum)

Guest post written byEmily Vidovich

Biophilia is defined as the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living beings. The term is derived from the Greek words for “life” and “love or affection;” making its literal translation “love of life.” This concept is foundational to biophilic design, which utilizes natural materials, patterns, and phenomena to maintain a connection to nature within the built environment. Biophilia is more than just a philosophy—biophilic design has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. NRDC incorporates biophilic design into all its offices to encourage the connection between humans and nature, as well as promote staff wellness and productivity. Since the average American spends 90 percent of their life indoors, increasing biophilia in the built environment would have significant results.

Under the canopy of biophilic design, there are three categories:

  1. Nature in the Space. The direct presence of nature in a space in the form of plants, animals, water, breeze, scents, light, shadows, and other natural elements.
  2. Natural Analogues. The representational presence of natural materials, patterns, objects, colors, and shapes incorporated into building design, facade ornamentation, decor, and furniture.
  3. Nature of the Space. The incorporation of spatial elements commonly found in nature such as expansive views, places of sensory refuge (such as a quiet and dark room that simulates a cave), and a mild sense of risk (like stepping stones over a shallow pond).

Within the three categories of biophilic design are 14 patterns that detail different ways to incorporate each category into a space. Which patterns to incorporate depends on both the needs of the structure and the personal preference of occupants; some people will resonate more with incorporating living environmental features, while others love natural shapes and sounds. The beauty of biophilic design is that its elements can be mixed and matched to create a personalized ecosystem.

Many NRDC offices share the same biophilic design elements:

  • Maximize natural light through an open floor plan, abundant windows, skylights, and light wells. (Exposure to natural light has been found to boost productivity, increase Vitamin D absorption, and ward off seasonal depression).
  • Include foliage and nature themed artwork in the form of climbing gardens, honeycomb-shaped wall tiles covered in moss, and potted plants. (Studies found that the presence of plants in the workspace reduces mental fatigue and boosts productivity).
  • Use natural materials, including sustainable poplar and bamboo, in furniture and paneling. (Opting for natural materials reduces exposure to chemicals found in common construction materials).

In addition to these elements, there are features unique to specific locations. In the Washington, D.C. office a sound masking system can be heard (or not heard) that creates a white noise encouraging tranquility, and a “living wall” covered in local plants can be found in the kitchen. In offices where the outdoors are more accessible, occupants can enjoy it through floor to ceiling windows in the Bozeman office, and soak up the sunlight and ocean views by sitting on the rooftop terrace in the Santa Monica office.

Biophilic design does not require a large budget or versatile space; there are many simple ways to apply biophilic principles to a space, whether it is leased or owned:

  • Open curtains and windows so that occupants can be guided by the daily movement of light and allow dynamic air movement and natural fluctuations in temperature.
  • If living in an area with high levels of air pollution, add a portable HEPA air purifier to the room to maintain healthy air quality.
  • Place easy to care for indoor plants near frequently used areas.
  • Incorporate auditory or olfactory elements, such as using a nature sounds playlist when falling asleep, or diffusing essential oils.

As the human population grows and access to wilderness becomes limited, incorporating nature into the built environment becomes increasingly important so that the inherent connection between humans and nature is not lost. Consistent exposure to natural elements through biophilic design supports longevity and ensures that future generations maintain an affinity with nature, so that they will grow up to be stewards of the wild places and animals that make our planet magnificent.

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Sustainable Cities Buildings Human Health

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Bringing the Outdoors In: The Benefits of Biophilia (2024)


Bringing the Outdoors In: The Benefits of Biophilia? ›

Studies have shown that including biophilic design elements, such as natural light, plants, and outdoor views, can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and enhance cognitive function. Exposure to nature in our surroundings has been linked to increased creativity, improved mood, and a sense of relaxation.

What are the environmental benefits of biophilia? ›

Providing green spaces, water features, abundant plants and natural materials creates a host of benefits, including helping to reduce a development's carbon footprint and regulating the temperature of buildings.

What is biophilia connection to nature? ›

The human relationship with nature

Anecdotal and qualitative evidence suggests that humans are innately attracted to nature. For example, the appearance of the natural world, with its rich diversity of shapes, colours, and life, is universally appreciated. This appreciation is often invoked as evidence of biophilia.

How bringing nature inside can improve your health? ›

Reduces Stress and Improves Mood

Interacting with plants indoors has been shown to reduce stress and access to sunlight and natural elements in a room can help reduce anxiety and depressed mood, while increasing satisfaction with our environment.

Why is it important that we turn to a biophilic society? ›

Biophilia focuses on human's attraction to nature and natural processes. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural world built up through hundreds of thousands of years of living in natural environments, and that it can help improve our mental and physical states.

What are the three pillars of biophilia? ›

Biophilic design rests on three key pillars:
  • Nature in the space.
  • Nature of the space.
  • Natural analogues.

What are the values of biophilia? ›

Biophilia is innate, and it is a genetic predisposition that we all possess, but it must be stimulated and educated to be able to express itself at its best. Direct contact with Nature has multiple positive effects on our health and on our psychophysical well-being, as shown by numerous scientific studies.

What is biophilia and how can it influence us? ›

It literally means a love of life or living things. Humans have a deeply engrained love of nature which is an intuitive and natural drive imprinted into our DNA. Researchers believe this to be a reason that we have thrived as a species, helping us to locate the most fertile land, cultivate food and nurture new life.

What is biophilia as a concept? ›

"Biophilia" is an innate affinity of life or living systems. The term was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.

How does being outside benefit you? ›

Nature can help decrease your anxiety levels and can help lessen stress and feelings of anger. Exercise can also help this, but it's even better when you're outside. Regular access to green spaces has been linked to lower risks of depression and improved concentration and attention.

Why does being outside make you happy? ›

“Moving your body and being outside in nature can help your body to recover after stressful events in your life,” says psychiatrist, Patrick Kane, M.D. Being in nature can reduce cortisol levels and muscle tension. It's a great way to foster connection with other people.

Why is it good to walk outside for mental health? ›

Nature gives us a sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves. It can get us out of our own heads. Because time in the outdoors offers the benefit of mental rest and rejuvenation, it has been shown to improve memory, attention, impulse control, and creativity in the general population.

What are the positive effects of biophilia? ›

Enhanced Well-Being and Mental Health

One of the foremost benefits of biophilic design is its positive impact on mental health and overall well-being. Exposure to natural elements, such as sunlight, greenery and water features, has been linked to reduced stress, improved mood and enhanced cognitive function.

What is the feeling of biophilia? ›

The preference for nature has a name: biophilia, which literally means “love of life,” an affinity for living things and the natural world. The “biophilia effect” describes any of a number of positive impacts experienced when this affinity is evoked through a sensory experience of nature: sight, sound, smell, or feel.

How does biophilic environment help in the healing process? ›

Biophilic design has the power to create healing environments in rehabilitation settings by incorporating nature-inspired elements. The profound impact on patient's physical and emotional well-being is evident through reduced stress levels, improved recovery, enhanced engagement in therapy, and overall well-being.

What are some environmental advantages? ›

Natural areas help clean our air, purify our water, produce food and medicines, reduce chemical and noise pollution, slow floodwaters, and cool our streets. We call this work 'ecosystem services'.

What are the environmental benefits of green architecture? ›

Benefits of green buildings

Green buildings help reduce negative impacts on the natural environment by using less water, energy, and other natural resources; employing renewable energy sources and eco-friendly materials; and reducing emissions and other waste.

What are the economic benefits of biophilic design? ›

This research, supported by case studies and comprehensive literature reviews, reveals the tangible benefits of biophilic design. The economic implications are substantial, including reduced absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, heightened productivity, and improved employee retention.

What is the impact and benefits of biophilia in the workplace? ›

Human beings have an innate affinity towards natural objects and designs, and so by implementing these throughout the workplace you can make employees feel more connected and thus have a more positive state of mind. When workers are happy, they will be more engaged and thus more productive.

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