Biology and psychology in the design of everyday spaces

What is it like to be faced with the snowy scenery of Mont Blanc or to look at the dark sky above us studded with stars, to live in a newly constructed building or to observe the refined veining of the vault of a Gothic cathedral we are visiting?

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All these situations provoke emotions in us human beings.  

Numerous scientific evidences have been able to prove and measure that our experiences with natural and built environments have the power to influence our state of well-being, our health, our emotions, our thoughts, our decisions, our (inter)actions and even our identity. 

But we also change our environments. This is not a new phenomenon. Homo sapiens have always altered the environment in which they live. Our ancestors built safe REFUGES for themselves and exploited available RESOURCES in order to survive and thrive in the natural environments (wilderness). With the industrial revolutions, our species initiated permanent and often irreversible transformations of the environment that have sometimes serious repercussions on today's world and the survival of living beings on earth, including us.

Therefore, while we change the environment, it is also the natural and architectural places that affect us emotionally and physically. This was well known by primordial humans who were forced to come to terms with their environments. Only those who were best adapted to the wild natural environment, and not the strongest as is often mistakenly thought, had a chance of having descendants.

In recent decades, we have not given so much importance to investigating in depth the complex issue of the mutual relationship between us humans and the environment. However, we have many (environmental) challenges to face now and in the future that will entail major changes in the design of our cities and the spaces of everyday living that will have to ensure our well-being and health. It is becoming increasingly important to deepen and broaden our knowledge of who we are, what role we have and want to play in the world, and what our true needs are as biological beings. Only by understanding the effects of physical environments on us as human beings will we be able to discover how we can be better off in the places where we live, heal, play, study and work.


In this context, I am reminded of the words expressed by Winston Churchill at the dawn of the reconstruction process after the destruction of the bombings of World War II, which intuitively express what we now know for sure: 'We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us' (Churchill, 1943).



Our perception of spaces can be improved through design and planning in such a way as to create positive experiences for people's health and well-being. Today, designers and practitioners have a wealth of knowledge in reference to techniques, technologies, materials and processes to improve built spaces. They can now also make use of insights belonging to the human sciences, such as BIOLOGY, EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY and ENVIRONMENTAL and ARCHITECTURAL PSYCHOLOGY, etc.

The study of HUMAN BIOLOGY covers a wide range of topics and can include genetics, evolution, physiology, anatomy, anthropology, ecology, etc. It helps us learn more about ourselves and how the physical environment can support and enhance our biological functions. ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, on the other hand, is a branch of psychology that studies human well-being and behaviour in light of the transactions that occur between the individual and the socio-physical environment. ARCHITECTURAL PSYCHOLOGY, in turn, is a branch of environmental psychology that deals with the relationship between human beings and the built environment. The two disciplines support architects and planners in designing places that promote people's satisfaction and well-being in physical environments.  Finally, EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY analyses the selection and development of specific psychological processes according to their adaptive value for the individual; it starts from the theory of evolution and, above all, from the natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin. It helps us understand where we come from, why we are who we are and what needs we have as living beings.Only with a multi- and interdisciplinary approach will we be able to better understand how to satisfy our needs within built spaces, while also safeguarding the environment.

The study of these disciplines has led us to realise that the natural world and greenery are of paramount importance for human beings in the built environment, both indoors and outdoors.

VERDE PROFILO makes use of this knowledge to offer our customers the best solutions for incorporating greenery in indoor and outdoor spaces in the name of well-being and psychophysical health. Our designs help people regenerate, reduce stress and create moments of contemplation, joy and aesthetic enjoyment.


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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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