Theoretically, biophilic design is a fascinating concept that illuminates the human desire for a connection to nature. It has been the subject of several studies, one of the most well-known being Terrapin Bright Green’s “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.” This analysis laid out vital concepts behind biophilic design, and I want to illustrate what some of these principles look like in action.
Visual Connection to Nature
Terrapin Bright Green defines this simply as “a view to elements of nature, living systems, and natural processes.” Though it’s simple, this principle can be immensely powerful when applied well. The Terrapin study specifies that studies have shown humans prefer a view involving a slope that leads to some sort of natural scene. Biophilic design needn’t attempt to adhere to this as dogma; rather, this preference provides a guideline for designers to consider. Using natural materials like weathered wood or stone can give a space more visual connection.
Thermal & Airflow Variability
Adequate ventilation and exposure to natural elements like light are both critical from a biophilic perspective. Since being in a natural space would entail changes in what one senses, biophilic design should replicate this variability. Terrapin places heat and air elements in their own category, although elements like sound are still important.
There are several natural and artificial means of creating this sort of variability. Naturally, a space can strategically direct sunlight to focal points that deserve the most solar contact. On the other hand, shadow and shade, which can be accomplished organically through design, are just as essential. Artificial means may include HVAC delivery, window treatment, and cross ventilation. Often, it is ideal to combine both natural and artificial strategies to create variability, especially because most environments are unable to use solely natural methods due to impracticality.
Connection with Natural Systems
Natural processes such as geology and hydrology play an important role in biophilic design. As with thermal and airflow variability, change is inherent in natural systems and thus a necessary inclusion in any biophilic environment. This variability is mostly organic, although there are methods of artificially supplementing the natural systems.
Integrating natural systems can be as simple as an ample view of a forest. On the other hand, it can be complex; for example, it might be desirable to control light to accommodate human circadian rhythms. It is most important for humans to be surrounded by and reminded of the cycles and systems in nature. Simulated options include the installation of wildlife habitats or aged wood with a noticeable patina.
Material Connection With Nature
This biophilic principle is one of the most flexible when it comes to design. Material connection may mean reflecting local ecology or simply utilizing a wide variety of materials to encourage visual difference, which can aid in maximizing the effects of biophilic design. Typically, colors that occur naturally (especially green) are used in conjunction with materials like naturally distressed wood. This can also extend to a textural level, such as using worn leather or stone to more thoroughly integrate natural details and satisfy subconscious biophilic needs.
From Office Star: GitHub’s San Francisco office is plentiful with wood and green materials
Complexity & Order
The concepts behind complexity and order emerge from natural and often mathematical patterns in nature such as fractals. Specifically, a space with a moderate amount of fractal usage will keep the space interesting while not making it overwhelming. While design doesn’t need to explicitly use mathematical sequences, it’s important for a space to have a sense of natural purpose. Symmetry also falls into this category and is a valuable tool in the biophilic designer’s arsenal.
From Terrapin Bright Green: This ceiling structure exemplifies fractal-based biophilic design
Terrapin defines prospect as “an unimpeded view over a distance for surveillance and planning,” making it closely related to open design but in a more comprehensive fashion. Prospect can be applied to both inside and outside spaces, and it prioritizes lines of sight. This can be accomplished with elevated planes, unobstructed views, and centering traffic around a central hub. Prospect is also important to allow for the best views of natural elements and systems.
To get the most benefits from biophilic design, it’s essential to implement several of these biophilic principles. These concepts will turn a space from a nature-friendly environment into a full-fledged biophilic paradise.