Biophilic design vs other architectural design disciplines


Some fields such as bioarchitecture, green buildings, natural architecture, Feng Shui and various other disciplines that concern design are, each in their own way, attentive to issues such as sustainability in processes, methods and materials used, building orientation, energy flows, etc. To the eyes of professionals dealing with the aforementioned disciplines, Biophilic Design sometimes seem to be a practice that deals with issues that have already been widely covered by by disciplines that have existed for longer: for example, the wellbeing of people in built environments, psychophysical health, healthy environments, etc.

Sometimes they come to the conclusion that Biophilic Design does not introduce anything new, if not themes developed by other disciplines, to which we simply want to give a new name.

If, however, we think back to some of the key concepts of Biophilic Design, it can be seen that the not so recent discoveries about the innate biophilia of human beings bring with them a profound scientific understanding of our needs related to the evolutionary history of our species and how they can be translated into an architectural language.

What in the past was often done intuitively and on the basis of experience, with Biophilic Design is studied, explained and solved on the basis of scientific evidence. Today, we know a lot about human biophilia and this knowledge helps us to incorporate certain details in buildings with specific uses in a more methodical way and with more precise results.

It also helps that the quality of a biophilic design can be assessed, both ex-ante and ex-post, through the use of well-known testing and measurement systems that have been developed by environmental psychologists.

There is still a lot of information and dissemination work to be done to explain that it is not at all a matter of marrying old concepts in a new guise, but of a solid foundation of scientific knowledge on the relationship between man and nature and on the biology and psychology of the human being; the latter has precise needs to which architecture and artificial spaces should increasingly respond.

Some perplexity about Biophilic Design probably also stems from the fact that some of its arguments or attributes have been unconsciously or intuitively used in vernacular architecture, regardless of epochs or cultural currents, because they have developed on the basis of experiments and experiences sedimented over time that have proven to be beneficial for human beings.

The comparison between restorative design on the one hand and Biophilic Design on the other deserves particular attention. With reference to the former, the regenerative effect can result from the presence of plants and other natural elements, but it can also occur in places without any obvious natural elements. Environmental and architectural psychology deals with regenerative spaces.

On the other hand, the regeneration of attention after mental fatigue and the reduction of stress in the case of biophilic design, always occurs in combination with the presence of elements, principles or structures related to the natural world that bring multiple benefits to human beings.

We hope that the various disciplines can find valuable synergies and enrich each other in the future.


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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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