The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2024)

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Coined by psychologist Eric Fromm in 1964, biophilia refers to our innate connection with nature. It stems from the Greek words for “life” and “love” and explains why people around the globe enjoy experiences like walking through a forest or listening to ocean waves. Architects and interior designers have put biophilia into practice by creating connections to nature within the built environment.

This practice is known as “biophilic design,” and it offers many psychological benefits, including reduced stress and improved cognitive function. Due to the benefits, biophilic design has become a core component of building verification systems like the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

If you undertake an LBC project, you and your team will participate in a Biophilic Exploration, a workshop that helps you better understand biophilia and its connection to your project.

In the Biophilic Exploration, you will learn about Stephen Kellert’s six biophilic design principles. This article will discuss these six principles in more detail and provide examples, helping you explore ways your project can connect to nature.

Stephen Kellert was a professor of social ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Design. Throughout his career, he helped develop the field of biophilic design and became one of its biggest advocates. His six principles offer a practical framework for brainstorming design decisions, helping you consider how to incorporate nature into your project.

1. Environmental Features

Biophilic spaces often include well-recognized features of the natural world. Features like vegetation, water, sunlight, and natural materials create a more pleasing visual and tactile experience.

This principle can be applied on different scales. Some projects may stick to features like potted plants and materials like wood and stone, while others may incorporate larger features like courtyards, living wall planters, ponds, or fountains.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (1)

Indoor foliage at Kreg Tool's headquarters.

2. Natural Shapes and Forms

Using naturally occurring shapes, patterns, and forms is another element of biophilic design. These elements can include botanical motifs, spirals, arches, and curves.

Mimicking or recreating natural forms can create a symbolic and subconscious connection to nature. For example, an arched doorway or a vaulted ceiling may remind one of a cave, creating a sense of shelter and refuge.

3. Natural Patterns and Processes

This principle refers to the structures and laws of the natural world. Biophilic spaces may include patterns found in nature, such as fractals. They may also reflect natural processes, like growth or aging.

Whether we recognize it or not, these processes stimulate our senses. Evolvingmaterials like weathering steel reflect the passage of time, creating a more stimulating environment. Contrasting evolvingmaterials with static materials can create a rich and varied sensory experience.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2)

Weathering steel at St. Luke the Evangelist.

4. Light and Space

Daylighting is essential to biophilic design. Interior spaces with ample daylight can boost mood, improve productivity, and help regulate circadian rhythms.

Beyond standard lighting strategies, the principle recommends varied lighting to mimic how we experience light outdoors. For example, shadows and diffused light can mimic light filtering through a forest.

The principle also focuses on how occupants experience space. Varied interior volumes can mimic the experience of nature, reminding occupants of open skies or tree canopies.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (3)

Diffused light at One Place.

5. Place-Based Relationships

This principle encourages designers to avoid “placeless-ness” and root a building or interior space within its context. On a basic level, it involves using local materials, native plantings, and indigenous building techniques.

However, this principle is also about capturing the “spirit” of a place. In the LBC’s Biophilic Exploration, you learn about your local ecology, history, and culture. This information can inspire design ideas that root your project in its community context.

For example, you may incorporate local art or references to historic events or figures. Such design decisions create an emotional connection to the project and give people a deeper appreciation of their community and the environment.

Having a conversation about biophilia early in the design process allows you to better integrate these features into the design and create a more impactful project.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (4)

A map of Iowa City at the Downtown District's office.

6. Evolved Human-Nature Relationships

The last principle refers to our evolutionary relationship with nature and how we can recreate this feeling in the built environment. Designers can work to create a sense of:

  • Protection and refuge
  • Awe and excitement
  • Order and complexity
  • Exploration and discovery

These are all sensations we experience as we immerse ourselves in the natural environment. By identifying and naming these feelings, we are better able to integrate them into a building’s design. Readily experiencing the sensations of nature makes us more likely to appreciate and protect it.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (5)Order and complexity at Voxman School of Music.

Learn More About the Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is becoming increasingly popular—for good reason! These strategies can help improve occupant health and well-being and stimulate our senses.

Stephen Kellert’s six principles provide a great starting point for brainstorming design decisions. By thinking through these principles, you can visualize how your project can better reflect and connect to the natural world. While houseplants are a great start, there are many more to experience the benefits of nature.

If you start an LBC project, you will dive deeper into each of these principles in your Biophilic Exploration. Learn more by reading about how to prepare for the workshop.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2024)


What is the principle of biophilic design? ›

Simply put, the biophilic design element of environmental features relates to characteristics of the natural world found in the built environment. People are naturally drawn to features of the natural environment such as plants, animals and natural materials.

What is the theory of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design fosters positive and sustained interactions and relationships among people and the natural environment. Humans are a deeply social species whose security and productivity depends on positive interactions within a spatial context.

Who came up with the 14 patterns of biophilic design? ›

In 2014, Terrapin Bright Green published The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design – Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment. This white paper categorises the different relationships between natural elements and humans in the built environment.

What are the five senses of biophilic design? ›

As experts in biophilic interior design, we at Plantique recommend exploring the concept of biophilic design by journeying through the five senses: touch, smell, hear, sight and taste.

What are the parameters of biophilic design? ›

23 Biophilic design elements include light, air, water, plants, animals, fire, landscape, weather, and natural views, which can be implemented through three approaches: physical connection with nature, visual connection with nature, and auditory connection with nature. ...

What are the three pillars of biophilic design? ›

It is just now that design professionals and researchers are pulling these together en masse and presenting them under the umbrella of biophilic design. There are three pillars of Biophilic Design: Nature in the Space, Nature of the Space and Natural Analogues.

What is the biophilic philosophy? ›

It's a design philosophy centered around the use of natural elements like plants, wood, water, and natural light. The International Living Future Institute further defines the style: "biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities."

What is the psychology behind biophilic design? ›

The biophilia hypothesis posits an innate biological and genetic connection between human and nature, including an emotional dimension to this connection. Biophilic design builds on this hypothesis in an attempt to design human-nature connections into the built environment.

Who is the godfather of biophilic design? ›

The Stephen R. Kellert Biophilic Design Award acknowledges Stephen Kellert's legacy as a pioneer in articulating and applying biophilic design principles to the built environment.

What are the biophilic standards? ›

Biophilic Design Principles and Goals

The goal of biophilic design is to create places imbued with these features that promote positive emotional experiences -- enjoyment, pleasure, interest, fascination, and wonder -- that are the precursors of human attachment to and caring for place.

Who is the father of biophilic design? ›

Stephen Kellert is known as a father of biophilic design because of his widely accepted principles and framework around the idea.

What is an example of a biophilic design concept? ›

The Barbican Centre is one of the earliest and most famous examples of biophilic architecture. Opened in the 1980s as an estate in London, it's renowned for its striking, brutalist design. The bleak style of the Barbican is juxtaposed with the use of natural and artificial lakes and extensive wildlife.

What is biophilic principles? ›

Biophilia is the inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature that even in the modern world. continues to be critical to people's physical and mental health and wellbeing (Wilson 1986, Kellert and Wilson 1993, Kellert 1997, 2012).

Who is a biophilic person? ›

noun. bio·​phil·​ia ˌbī-ō-ˈfi-lē-ə -ˈfēl-yə : a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature : a desire or tendency to commune with nature. Biophilia is the term coined by the Harvard naturalist Dr.

What is the goal of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design is an approach to architecture that seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature. Biophilic designed buildings incorporate things like natural lighting and ventilation, natural landscape features and other elements for creating a more productive and healthy built environment for people.

What is the concept of biophilic? ›

The term biophilia, as coined by psychologist Erich Fromm and popularised by biologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s, is defined as 'the urge to affiliate with other forms of life'. Originating from Greek, it translates literally as 'love of life'.

What are the principles of biophilic urbanism? ›

By prioritising human-scale design, walkability, and access to nature, biophilic urbanism aims to create healthier, more resilient cities that nurture both people and the planet.

What are the principles of nature based design? ›

Environmental features

Direct contact with vegetation, in and around the built environment, is one of the most successful strategies for fostering human-nature connection in design. The presence of plants can reduce stress, improve comfort, enhance mood, and prompt healing.

What is the design philosophy of biophilia? ›

It's a design philosophy centered around the use of natural elements like plants, wood, water, and natural light. The International Living Future Institute further defines the style: "biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities."

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