Improving Performance through Biophilic Design

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a place of beauty and inspiration, a place where you feel happy and alive. Take a moment there, and when you're ready open your eyes.

Did you know that people nearly always picture themselves in a place of nature? Where did you go in your mind? Were you outdoors or somewhere in the wilderness?

According to the concept of biophilia, it is our evolution, over tens of thousands of years, that compels us to seek places and spaces that connect us to the natural world.

What is "biophilia"?
The term biophilia literally means 'love of life and all living things'. Popularized by Harvard biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis suggests that human beings have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.

What is "biophilic design"?
Biophilic design nurtures this innate human attraction to natural systems and processes. Dr. Stephen Kellert, author of Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life, describes biophilic design as "building and landscape design that enhances human well-being by fostering positive connections between people and the natural environment." Biophilic elements of the natural world are essentially manifested in the places where we live and work.

What are elements of biophilic design?

Environmental features - qualities and characteristics of nature, such as color, water, fresh air, sunlight, plants, animals, soils, landscapes, and natural materials. Examples: potted plants, water features, courtyard gardens

Natural shapes and forms - use of animal and botanical motifs, shapes, biomorphic art, and architecture and design to simulate and mimic natural features. Examples: pictures of trees and water, building elements that mimic a forest canopy, leaves or shells

Natural patterns and processes - varying sensory experiences, complementary contrasts, qualities of complexity, time, change and transitions to stimulate processes instrumental in human evolution and development.

Light and space - lighting and spatial features to evoke feelings of being in nature, such as natural light, play between light and shadow, a sense of spaciousness, sculptural qualities, and integration of light, space and mass

Place-based relationships - establishing connections between buildings and historic, cultural, geographic, spiritual or ecological characteristics of place to evoke meaningful relationships within our built environment

Evolved human-nature relationships - use of design to evoke our innate affiliation with nature, such as a sense of prospect and refuge, security and protection, curiosity and enticement, affection and attachment, exploration and discovery, and other biophilic expressions. Examples: elevated views couple with protected spaces, exploring unseen space and evoking pleasurable distress

Do we feel and perform better with a closer connection to our natural environment?
Engaging with nature, through both a direct sensory exposure and a sense of connectedness, has been well documented as having a positive effect on our psychological and physiological health. The effects of daylighting and views to the outdoors has been shown to increase recovery rates of hospital patients, improve classroom learning rates, increase employee productivity, and result in higher levels of job satisfaction. Recent studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that spending time in nature increases peoples sense of vitality beyond the effects of physical activity or social interaction. Whether viewing plants or greenery, interacting with animals, or walking in the outdoors, these connections affect our performance and our personal wellbeing.

Are there economic advantages to biophilic design?
When translated into economic value the benefits of connecting people to nature shows potential for financial growth as well. In 2012 Terrapin Bright Green, LLC, an environmental consulting and strategic planning firm published The Economics of Biophilia. The white paper presents a strong business case for incorporating biophilic elements into our built environment, including economic benefits from increased productivity in the workplace ranging from $1,000 per employee to $3.6 million company-wide. Considering 90% of a company's operating costs are associated with salaries, benefits, and other human resources, even small improvements in employee productivity and reduced absenteeism can result in positive impacts to the bottom line.


Wilson, Edward O. Wilson. Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1984.

Kellert, Stephen R., and Edward O. Wilson. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, D.C.: Shearwater. Print. 1993.

Kellert, Stephen et al. Biophilic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2008.

Richard, Ryan M. et al. "Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature". Journal of Environmental Psychology. Volume 3. Issue 2 (June 2010): 159-168. Web. 27 March. 2014.