9th October ’18


We know that biophila means the human need for a connection to nature. Edward O. Wilson introduced the term and published his book of the same name in 1984. Edward’s even broader definition is “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. Being a designer promoting cruelty free design I could easily extend this to our affiliation with animals – and avoiding using them in building designs! I l first learnt about biophila watching the film ‘Biophilic Design – the Architecture of Life’ [1]. I loved it. It all made so much sense.

Global figures show a huge shift of over 40% in populations moving into urban areas over the last 60 years [2]. We know we spend 90% of our day on average inside and should do more to take ourselves outside. In Finland, health officials recommend spending a minimum of 5 hours in woods a month for preserving good mental health [3].

In urban areas, we need to ensure that those living, working or visiting indoor spaces are happy, healthy and content.   The human need to connect to nature within our building design has many scales and levels. The types are best summarised in the WELL Building Standard [4] which I’m studying. The standard encourages nature to be incorporated into the environmental design, lighting, layout, how a building interacts with nature around it, water features, natural materials and even pattern incorporation (biomimicry). Yes, even the imitation of nature’s patterns and forms is beneficial for us.… making me feel lucky to have grown up in a house decorated with William Morris wallpaper! The standard encourages on site gardening for workplaces and also having garden spaces to work or rest in. You just need to read Florence Williams ‘The Nature Fix’ to know this is a great thing [5]. Florence tells us just 5 minutes a day spent in nature is beneficial to our health so those breaks in garden spaces are valuable [6]. These measures in WELL Building Standard buildings globally have been measured to show there are benefits of reduced stress, increased productivity – and in medical environments, reduced healing and recovery time. I was lucky to hear architect Nic Hoare of Brighton’s RHP Partnership talk about design for hospices – where he uses biophilia as a vital tool throughout to improve the experience of all users – staying in, visiting and working in the buildings.

Keeping certain things in mind such as maximising exposure to daylight by positioning people close to windows for a pleasant working environment is important.  Research has proven that a view through those windows of external landscaping that connects people to nature – has a positive effect on productivity, mood and creativity [7]. The Low Carbon Trust’s Earthship Brighton is a great example of a biophilic building [8]. This wonderful autonomous building is hidden away in Stanmer Park. There are aesthetically & strategically considered planted areas and natural materials & forms on view inside. The view through the South facing windows is of a view of lush green reed water filtration bed and the beautiful surrounding South Downs National Park beyond (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

I hope reading this prompts some thoughts on how to add biophila to your world. We don’t have to live in the Earthship (even though that would be wonderful!). There are small things we can do. As a first step, here are some useful plants that can improve your environment. As well as the forms, colour, air purifying and distressing benefits of the plants – it’s also been reported that caring for plants is good for us too [9].

Here are some plants to consider [10]:

  • Snake plant (Sanseveiera trifasciata).  Among NASA’s top ranked for absorbing formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene.  It needs little water and plenty of light.
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum).  The no.1 on NASA’s list.  Low maintenance, shade-loving evergreen needing little water.
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata).  Palm like top air purifier- removing formaldehyde, benzene, xylene.  Water twice a week and happy in indirect sunlight.



[1] ‘Biophilic Design – the Architecture of Life’. 2011. Executive Producer: Stephen Kellert, Producer/Director: Bill Finnegan, Production Company: Tamarack Media http://www.biophilicdesign.net

[2] HUMAN SPACES: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace

[3] National Geographic https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/nature-fix-brain-happy-florence-williams/

[4] The WELL Building Standard from The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).

[5] The Nature Fix By Florence Williams 9780393355574

[6] The Nature Fix – What Happens When You Spend Just 5 Minutes in Nature? https://youtu.be/iwQkTuhId-o

[7] source: Harvard Business Review, 26th June 2017 https://hbr.org/2017/06/why-you-should-tell-your-team-to-take-a-break-and-go-outside

[8] http://www.lowcarbon.co.uk/earthship-brighton

[9] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/03/the-surprising-mental-and-physical-health-benefits-of-houseplants

[10] Elle Decoration UK,  July 2017




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