Biophilic design: health and wellbeing in built environment

We human beings have always changed the environment in which we live to our liking, but it is also the environments themselves that influence us: our health and our emotions, thoughts and decisions, (inter) actions and our identity.

Today, our perception of spaces can be improved with the help of a specific design discipline that is able to create positive experiences in the name of health and well-being in built environments: Biophilic Design.


BIOPHILIC DESIGN is an applied science and an innovative way of planning buildings and interiors, but also urban spaces or entire cities, which uses the most recent discoveries in the relationship between humans and Nature, to create artificial environments in the name of well-being and psychophysical health of people. This discipline, which was born about fifteen years ago, has as its main objective that of making the spaces of everyday life as consistent as possible with the innate human biophilia. Biophilia is our love of life and Nature (Fromm, 1964) and has been defined by Edward O. Wilson as "our innate tendency to focus upon life and life-like forms and, in some instances, to affiliate with them emotionally" (Wilson, 2002).

Ecologist Stephen R. Kellert, one of the two fathers of the biophilia hypothesis along with Edward O. Wilson, defined Biophilic Design as "the deliberate attempt to translate the affinity of Man with Nature - known as biophilia - in the design of artificial environments "(Kellert, 2008). Kellert immediately clarified that "Biophilic Design is not about greening our buildings or simply increasing their aesthetic appeal through inserting trees and shrubs. It is much more, it is about humanity's place in nature, and the natural world's place in human society, a space where mutuality, respect, and enriching relation can and should exist at all levels and emerge as the norm rather than the exception". For Kellert and Wilson "Nature" does not mean only vegetation, but involves "the total system of living beings, animals and plants, and of inanimate things that present an order, create types and are formed according to laws" (Treccani).

The discipline of Biophilic Design incorporates the characteristics and benefits of Nature into the projects, thus making the environments as similar as possible to natural ones. This design approach in recent years has enjoyed a growing interest, not only by architects or professionals in the construction industry, but also by a public that is increasingly attentive and sensitive to issues related to Nature and psychophysical health in spaces. where we live, work, learn, play and heal ourselves every day.

In addition to the traditional design disciplines, today there are numerous sectors involved in the definition of biophilic environments with a multidisciplinary approach. Biophilic Design makes use, for example, of the knowledge of environmental psychology, evolutionary psychology and biology, of affective ecology (branch of ecology that deals with the psychic - emotional and cognitive - relationships that we human beings establish with Nature), of neuroscience, biology, etc.


It is desirable that Biophilic Design integrates more and more the concepts of environmental, economic and social sustainability, and that the niche discipline becomes a consolidated design practice capable of creating artificial habitats that safeguard the natural environment on the one hand, and on the other ensures the well-being and health of human beings. A biophilic environment correctly designed according to the usual protocols recognized by the scientific community on a cognitive level, accelerates the attention to the regeneration process and makes people's thinking clearer; on an emotional level, it promotes recovery from stress. These benefits are already known and can now be measured with appropriate psychometric scales.


It is important that we return to a life in harmony with Nature also in our homes and in our cities. Today, design professionals have a great opportunity to act so that the buildings in which we live are healthier places for both body and mind. Biophilic Design offers us this great opportunity.


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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant


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