As an interior designer I am often asked the question – What is biophilic design?

Put simply biophilia means ‘love of life’ and refers to our inherent love of the natural world. Nature continuously inspires us with her endless beauty and ability to evolve and overcome problems through great design. Biophilic design seeks to harness this inspiration and use it to address our innate need to connect with nature by applying it to the built environment.

As humans we have evolved further and further from nature, spending more time indoors and away from our natural environment. Due to an increase in urbanisation we have to adapt to these new unnatural environments. This puts undue stress on our mental and physical wellbeing.

So, my simple answer to the question of ‘what is biophilic design’ is this:

Biophilic design improves the built environment by connecting us to nature, directly and indirectly through man-made design. As a biophilic designer I’m passionate about creating living, working and leisure spaces which enhance wellbeing and provide better community living.

Using biophilic design I create buildings which:

  • In the home – Reduce stress, create restorative environments and better health
  • At work and school – Improve productivity and reduce absenteeism
  • For leisure – create richer experiences
  • In healthcare – increase recovery times

When you look at it this way, shouldn’t all designs be biophilic?

How does biophilic design work?

The objective of designing in this way is to use a framework of natural elements throughout the design process which positively affect health and wellbeing. Whether in homes, workplaces, leisure environments or buildings which serve the community such as schools and hospitals, the restorative environmental design minimises harm and damage to natural systems and human health. As well it enriches the human body, mind, and spirit by fostering positive experiences of nature in the built environment.

This now brings us to the question of what is biophilic design in practice? How do we actually affect these changes in the built environment to focus on health and well-being in the projects that we work on?

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better, Albert Einstein.”

Here at Angela Cheung UK, our team use a research led approach which looks in detail at two elements:

Organic Design (or Naturalistic Design)

This includes looking at the effect of natural elements such as lighting, air and thermal comfort. This also includes natural materials in decoration and ornamentation such as the presence of water and plants.

One of the most recognisable organic design principles is the addition of plants to our homes. In fact if you ask most people the question, “What is biophilic design?’, they may simply say it involves adding lots of plants into your home.  This is true – plants are a very straightforward way to connect our homes with nature. They add earthy colours and natural textures into our decor. They remove volatile organic chemicals, purifying the air around them. RHS studies have even shown that houseplants can offer psychological, physical and cognitive benefits.

It’s not just about plants!

However as well as plants there are many more often overlooked aspects of organic design which bring harmony and wellbeing. Let’s look at lighting design for example, as it is a key organic design factor. We assess how to incorporate natural light into buildings. This means investigating the effects of light sources such as the orientation of the building and the location of the windows. Natural light affects the balance of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies which can help balance our mood and affect sleep patterns.

Nature’s colours are another organic design factor we carefully consider throughout the organic design process. In each room, we address how colour psychology affects wellbeing. Almost without knowing it we are programmed with instinctive reactions to colour. We choose colours meticulously based on their ability to calm or stimulate cognitive functions and weave them together into schemes that perfectly suit the purpose of the rooms. Colours which harness happiness and productivity work well in active living spaces such as kitchens and home offices. Whilst naturally calming colours bring well-being and balance to bedrooms and living rooms

“In all things of nature, there is something of the marvellous,” Aristotle

Did you know…
Green promotes healing and relaxation
Yellow is the colour of happiness
Blue encourages clarity of thought
Brown makes us feel safe and reassured

Another organic design factor that we carefully consider is the use of natural materials and nature’s patterns. These can be designed in to surfaces by adding wooden floors for example to bring a natural warmth of the colour and grain pattern from the outside in. Additionally as one of our earliest building materials known to man, wood brings a sense of wellbeing and protection to the occupants of a building.

Place-based Design (or Vernacular Design)

Place based design considers how buildings and landscapes are attached to a place by connecting culture, history, and ecology within the geographic context. In a town centre, we’ll explore the surrounding architecture looking at the history of the area and it’s buildings. The building materials, traditional techniques as well as cultural references of the area are all taken into consideration.

For example with our base in Brighton we are lucky to be in an area where history, culture and it’s own unique ecology bring together a very strong sense of place. In the centre of town grand Regency buildings sit side by side with fisherman’s cottages. These also now happen to be in the middle of a bustling seaside resort town.

Read one of our other Blogs where we use Place-Based Design

“Nature favours those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive,” James Lovelock

Recognising the value of these references and building them in to design connects a building to it’s location. It also creates continuity in our evolving built environment as well as fostering an enduring sense of connection with the local community.

Take a look at The Stables case study, an award winning town centre project. Here place based biophilic design, based on the history of the building, enhanced the design of a town centre property development.

“People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure,” David Attenborough

Now compare these historic and cultural landmarks to the outskirts of town, where the sweeping hills of the South Downs National Park influence our projects. Here we plan our architectural and landscaping designs to not only to mimic the surrounding environment but also to encourage wildlife with natural habitat planting. In interior design, after close study of local flora and fauna, colour schemes are beautifully inspired by this area of outstanding natural beauty.

Biophilic design creates meaningful connections between people and their living, working or leisure environments. Based on our innate connection with nature which is diverse and multi-sensory. Our research led approach explores the elements of organic and place based design in every project we work on. Whether in residential, commercial or community buildings our focus is on well-being for better-performing buildings and happier healthier communities. Contact us to find out how biophilic design can improve your next home renovation or property development.