Sustainability is about the impact of people and their behaviours on the natural environment. Biophilia is about how the environment and nature impacts us. Biophilic design is about creating good habitats for people in a modern built environment that satisfy their need for beneficial contact with the natural world.

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia: 1985) defines it as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. This tendency is not a mere sentimental or utilitarian appreciation of nature. It is an emotional response to life and other living organisms that is rooted in the co‐evolution of humans and their environments. This can include both attraction (for example, to specific landscape qualities) and aversion (for example, our deep‐seated fear of snakes). The Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that over millennia of evolution our species has internalised certain ‘learning rules’ that helped us negotiate relationships with our environment to our advantage and created a deep need for intimate association with the natural environment and other living beings.. “the innate tendency to focus on life and life like processes”.

Being deprived of nature in our buildings, with artificial light and no windows affects people and may lead to a type of sensory deprivation. Nature and the city are not polar opposites and by cutting this off in the design and develop of buildings limits how we learn about ourselves and our environment. Human reconnection to nature, both as a vital necessity for physical and psychological health is imperative for a thriving future of our cities. Therefore, biophilia is more than just the positive physical experience of green space in a city or building, it is the feeling of rejuvenation, connection and wellness we experience when in environments that allow us to connect to those learning rules that were embedded in our psyche during our evolution as a species.



The main premises of the ecological worldview is that the separation between human and ‘nature’ is an illusion and that humans are nature too. The need to reconnect with nature is not just an intellectual response to our problems of environmental degradation, but as a vital step in restoring physical and psychological health to human society. The biophilia hypothesis explains why this reconnection is so important, while biophilic design provides some guidelines in how the design of our built environment can restore and support our connection to nature.

Biomimicry helps us to learn from the wisdom of nature and its processes and patterns that have been developed over aeons of evolution, so that we can channel our human genius and creativity into directions that can contribute to the regeneration of both our ecosystem and ourselves. Understanding how to design and manufacture through life‐enhancing patterns and processes like nature does is critical if we are to accept the responsibilities brought by the Anthropocene and fully take on the burden we have created for ourselves as the stewards of the earth.


Biophilic design / Restorative design

Biophilic design is an approach to sustainable development that incorporates the positive experiences of nature into the design of the built environment. This design theory links the need of various levels of environment to physical and mental health.

Edward Wilson suggested that because much of our brain was developed before buildings and cities existed, the evolutionary traits that allowed our species to thrive are still present and influence our wellbeing. These traits resulted from the need for food, water and refuge. There has been scientific evidence providing links to these survival instincts resulting in people feeling happier, safer and more content; even if subconsciously.


The physical and psychological benefits of a closer connection to nature are countless. Beyond the health benefits, access to the natural environment increases individual productivity between 3‐18% and reduce absenteeism between 9‐71%. There is also evidence that biophilic features foster an appreciation of nature, which, in turn, leads to greater connection to and protection of natural areas.

Research shows connection to nature to support:

  • Enhances healing and well being
  • Fewer social problems when living near open space
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved concentration and memory
  • Healthy maturation and development
  • Improved intuition and connectedness
  • Greater ‘quality of life’ – connection to community, neighbours, sense of place environmental awareness.


Why the natural environment matters? 

Brain Structure and Function – 3D Animation

“Ulrich et. al. (1991) argues that because humans evolved over a long period in natural environments, they have an unlearned predisposition to respond positively to natural content and to configurations that were favorable for survival or ongoing well-being during evolution”.. “Further, these fundamental human perceptual and cognitive processes do not vary between cultures and that culture does not alter human nature as being a highly visual information-seeking animal (Ulrich, 1977). Per the video, the ‘lizard like’ brain is the part that holds the involuntary response to nature.

In conclusion, reconnecting with nature is the ability to learn, partner, lead and be led by nature. In the ecological worldview we are all part of one system each affecting and potentially benefiting each other. Click on the link for more on the six dimensions of biophilic design by Kellert


Source: Ulrich et. al., 1991; Ulrich, 1977; Wilson, 1985

2 thoughts on “Biophilia

  1. Pingback: Biomimcry and Architecture | Energy Systems & Sustainable Living

  2. Pingback: The Context of Sustainability and the Future of Green Buildings | Energy Systems & Sustainable Living

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