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The Basics of Biophilic Design

Design and Photo by Dayhouse Studio

The Essentials of Biophilic Design

Over the past few years, the buzz around Biophilic Design has been brewing. Once only the conversation of architects or city planners, the discussion surrounding how we design spaces that support the well-being of inhabitants has really begun to broaden. As an example of the growing interest, in 2022 biophilic design was at the top of interior design trends on the Pinterest Predicts List.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be delving deeper into exactly what biophilic design is and why it’s becoming an important component to supporting our health and well-being. We will also be showing how Dayhouse Studio takes these principles and strategically combines them to create health-focused spaces for specific health conditions.

So, what exactly is biophilia?


  • From the Greek, bio means life or living things, philia means “love of.”

Biophilia means a love of life, living systems and nature. Essentially, biophilia is an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems that inhabit the earth. And biophilic design is an evidence-based approach to designing human centric spaces that nurture well-being.

Historical Context

The terms “biophilia” was first coined by Enrich Fromm in 1973, a psychologist who believed humans have a connection to the natural world through a, sort of, genetic inheritance. Fromm defined biophilia as being “a passionate love of life and all that is alive”, and it was this connection to nature which made humans overcome feelings of isolation.

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But the concept of connecting our built environments to nature goes back much further. Architects of Ancient Greek and Roman eras knew the importance of the nature-connection in living spaces. A roman home or domus was built around a central courtyard to create a naturally calming retreat, designed with all the senses in mind. They were filled with plants, scented herbs and flowers. They decorated the walls with mosaics of nature scenes, installed water features where the soft babbling sounds of water could be heard and porticos to provide shade for relaxation.

It was biologist Edward Wilson, however, who really popularised the theory in the 1980s. Wilson’s book “Biophilia. – The Human Bond With Other Species” went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes. Wilson studied a variety of species in South America, primarily ants. His work recognized the connection between stress-related issues that come with humans’ rapid urbanization and the resulting lack of connections to nature.

What has followed since, thanks to the work of Wilson and his contemporaries including Professor Stephen Kellert and Psychologist Judith Heerwagen, is the conversation around our built environment and the impact on our physical and mental well-being.

The Modern Life Disconnect

Modern urban living means we now spend 90% of our lives indoors – homes, cars, public transport, workplaces, cafes, restaurants, gyms. A recent systematic review study on indoor air quality illustrates how our home environments contain such pollutants as particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as benzene or formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAHs (1). These pollutants come from furniture, household products, and other sources.

For most of us living in the western world, our lives now revolve around modern technology. According to a 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine Reports (2), more than half of US adults spent more than 4 hours of screen time per day (watching TV and using a computer). The same study reported associations between depression and higher screen time.

With almost 7 billion people using smartphones worldwide, our minds are more and more preoccupied with information.

Our constant state of distraction, disruption to our natural circadian rhythms, exposure to indoor pollutants and artificial light is having a significant effect on our physical health and mental well-being. It’s no wonder that the World Health Organization considers stress-related illnesses and mental health issues as global health epidemics of the 21st century.

What is Biophilic Design?

Biophilic Design is an evidence-based approach to designing human centric spaces that supports and nurtures its inhabitants. The patterns of Biophilic Design are guidelines underpinned by environmental and evolutionary science, ecology, and physiological and neurological research.

Using the design principles of Biophilic Design, we now have a practical strategy for harnessing the benefits of biophilia by reintroducing nature into the spaces in which we now spend 90% of our time.

Stephen Kellert proposes there are 73 attributes to implement, which look at how nature helps us form stronger connections between people, spaces and places. Sustainability consultants Terrapin Bright Green distilled these attributes into 14 main patterns across 3 categories (3):

The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

The 14 patterns of design are split into three main categories:

  • Nature in the space: Direct connections to nature through fresh air, light, plants water, animals and natural systems like weather

  • Natural analogues: References to or representations of nature, patterns, colours, textures, natural materials

  • Nature of the space: Mimicking spatial qualities of natural environments to evolve or enhance human responses. Creating spaces which stimulate, excite, calm, relax and restore.

Design and Photo by Dayhouse Studio

Nature in the Space

Nature in the Space is defined as elements in a space that we consider to have a direct connection with nature or natural systems. This category contains the first seven patterns of Biophilic Design:

  • Visual connection to nature: a view to real elements of nature, either directly or through a window.

  • Non-visual connection to nature: Using a sense other than sight to connect with nature, auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and haptic (touch).

  • Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli: Gentle natural movements and sounds with a repetitive quality yet not entirely predictable e.g., ripples across water, wind blowing leaves.

  • Thermal & air flow variability: Subtle changes in the air, like surface temperature fluctuations or varied air movement throughout a space.

  • Presence of Water: Being able to see, hear or touch water leads to an improved experience of a space.

Photo taken by Dayhouse at The Amangiri Resort

  • Dynamic & diffuse light: Bringing to the occupant varying densities of changing light and shadows. For example, light which changes or moves throughout the day or time of year.

  • Connection with natural systems: experiencing a connection to the natural cycles and process of the environment, such as the growing of plants, experiencing weather systems and changes in materials as exposed to and affected by these conditions (metal that rusts, wood that ages).

Design and Photo by Dayhouse Studio

Natural Analogues

Natural Analogues are elements that are representations of the natural world. Through natural analogues we consider shape, materiality, texture, pattern, and ornamentation and how they benefit the inhabitants of a space.

  • Biomorphic forms & patterns: Reference to nature defined by our choices in colour, pattern, form, shape. Using shape and forms reminiscent of those we find in nature.

  • Material connection to nature: materials, surfaces, textural experiences found in nature and how these can be repurposed for us in our built environment. With minimal processing they are still very much recognizable as organic elements.

  • Complexity & order: The balance in design of making use of rich sensory information but ensuring our environments don’t overwhelm us. By adhering to natural hierarchy of texture, proportional use of stimuli in our spaces just as we would experience them in nature.

Design and Photo by Dayhouse Studio

Nature of The Space

Nature of the space helps us consider how we can mimic the spatial qualities of our natural environments in order to evoke or enhance human emotional responses to the space we inhabit.

  • Prospect: Enabling occupants to experience either a distant view through an interior space or an expanse across an exterior space. A position of prospect helps us understand the layout of the space whilst being able to spot any threats or opportunities, thereby generating a sense of safety and calm within.

  • Refuge: Creating areas with spaces that allow the occupants to retreat from crowded or busy areas for moments of recuperation. For the maximum benefit of the occupant, design a refuge from a place of prospect combining two patterns of design.

  • Mystery: Creating a sense of mystery within design fosters a curiosity to explore. The promise of more information, implied by partially obscured views or winding pathways intrigues inhabitants leading to an enhanced experience of the space.

  • Risk/Peril: Incorporate a pleasing thrill into a built environment by positioning a perceived danger alongside a safeguard serves to raise adrenaline to create exciting and stimulating spaces, increasing cognitive awareness and interest.

We don’t suggest that every space should include all 14 patterns, more that we consider each pattern across larger projects or remodeling spaces. Some patterns can only be addressed fully when building from scratch or renovating but so many elements of biophilic design can be designed retro activately into spaces to enhance the experience of the inhabitants and to improve health outcomes. Over the coming weeks we will be exploring each of the biophilic design patterns in more detail.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on how biophilic interior design can help people living with chronic medical conditions, such as migraine, depression, and chronic pain.

Dwell well,



1 Vardoulakis S, et al, Int J Environ Res Publ Health, 2020,

2. Madhav KC, et al, Prev Med Rep 2017,

3. Browning WD, Ryan CO, and Clancy JO, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. 2014 New York: Terrapin Bright Green llc.

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