Biophilic Design is a relatively young design discipline. Until a few years ago, few people knew about it and especially in Italy it was not yet widespread. Today, it is still often treated as a trend or fad, developed during the pandemic and linked to the strong 'desire for Nature' that so many people have developed over the last three years.

Instead, it is an applied evidence-based science. It is becoming a megatrend and increasingly a necessity. To understand Biophilic Design, one needs to know its concept and see where it comes from and what approaches are most valid. Read the first article on Biophilia.

A first theoretical framework of 'biophilic buildings' dates back to 2001 and was developed by environmental psychologist Judith Heerwagen and Betty Hase.

The most established and comprehensive framework dates back to a 2008 publication by ecologist

Stephen Kellert in his book “Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life”. He developed six elements of biophilic design:

1) Environmental features

2) Natural shapes and forms

3) Natural patterns and processes

4) Light and space

5) Place-based relationships

6) Evolved human-nature relationships

Within these six elements, Kellert identified a total of 72 attributes of Biophilic Design. All subsequent studies were based on this 2008 framework, which can still be applied today.

In 2014, the New York-based environmental and strategic planning consultancy Terrapin Bright Green identified a total of 14 patterns, with the aim of letting humans experience the benefits of biophilic design applications. In 2020, a 15th pattern was added. Their structure is divided into three themes:

  • Nature in the space
  • Nature analogues
  • Nature of the space

In 2015, Stephen Kellert and US architect Elizabeth Calabrese developed a revisitation and simplification of his initial work from 2008, to facilitate understanding in a more design-oriented key. A paper was published containing a total of 24 attributes divided into three themes:

  • Direct Experience of Nature
  • Direct Experience of Nature
  • Experience of Space and Place

Finally, the nine themes of Biophilic Design by Bettina Bolten and Giuseppe Barbiero of the LEAF Laboratory of the University of Valle d'Aosta were published in 2023 by Springer Nature. The intention was to simplify the approach to Biophilic Design for professionals in the supply chain, using concepts that are mostly already present in normal design practice, but with a science-based approach that can open up new avenues for understanding our true needs and how to translate them into the world of construction.

The criteria adopted in this Biophilic Design protocol respond directly to psychological and physical needs matured by human beings in the course of evolution.

The elements of Biophilic Design can be divided into two basic groups following the principles of evolutionary adaptation developed by our species in the search for a safe refuge that had to be rich in resources.

The different protocols of Biophilic Design are complementary.


The role of greenery

In all the structures shown here, vegetation plays an important role, but it is not the only factor that generates regeneration and stress reduction.

Much scientific evidence has shown how important direct and preferably permanent contact with vegetation and other aspects of Nature is for us human beings.

We would like to end this brief overview of Biophilic Design with a quote from Stephen Kellert in reference to greenery: "For human existence, plants are fundamental as a source of food, fibre, nutrition and other aspects of sustenance and security. The simple inclusion of plants in the built environment can improve comfort, contentment, well-being and performance."


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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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