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Biophilic Design: An Ancient Truth with Modern Benefits

Issue #186 | November 30, 2021 | Ethan Young

According to Merriam-Webster, biophilia is a “human tendency to interact or be closely associated with nature.” Psychologist Eric Fromm changed the term in the 60s to mean a love of life or nature. Fromm believed that people have an innate desire to be around living things, a belief that wouldn’t be grounded in science for years. Recent research suggests that being in nature has dramatic, measurable effects on physical and mental health. But, unfortunately, our modern society has us spending nearly all our time inside. 

We’ve intrinsically known the importance of nature for thousands of years, but it hasn’t been such a concern until our shift towards the indoors. With many of us in windowless cubicles, factories, or offices, spending time outside is difficult. So often our lunch break is the sole opportunity during the day to visit the great outdoors.  

Before becoming aware of biophilia, I had intuitively been pursuing it in my daily life. I work in a cubicle, so I started walking at a nearby park during my lunch break. Ever since, it has become a staple of my day, a time to enjoy nature, wildlife, and the changing of the seasons. 

Terrapin Bright Green, an NYC sustainability consulting firm, is a major proponent of biophilic design, or buildings with natural elements alongside artificial ones. They propose that taking time during the day to experience nature is crucial, not just beneficial. 

Terrapin has conducted several studies on biophilic design, one specifically on lunch break site preferences for New Yorkers. They found that most participants were willing to travel further to eat their lunch for the benefits of a biophilic space. Of course, convenience still mattered, but people regularly chose natural environments, intuitively understanding their needs. The study concluded that “access to biophilic spaces is crucial to the livability of the cities and the wellbeing of their inhabitants.” 

As the human need for contact with nature has increased, some architects and builders have integrated natural elements into their designs, considering how light and greenery can improve mood and productivity. As a result, green walls, green roofs, and other ideas have been implemented in buildings worldwide. 

One of the most famous examples of biophilic design is the home Fallingwater. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 as a vacation home, Fallingwater is cantilevered over a waterfall, in harmony with nature. The eventual owner, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., said, “In Fallingwater, Wright captured the perfect essence of our desire to live with nature, to dwell in a forested place and be at home in the natural world.” 

Fallingwater is a one-of-a-kind concept home, proof that living in nature can be accomplished with innovative building techniques and a creative approach. Most buildings can’t be integrated with a waterfall but can still incorporate similar elements into their design. 

Biophilic buildings sound like a great idea, but do they hold up financially? Should a business spend extra on making their employee’s atmosphere more in tune with nature? 

The California Energy Commission conducted a study in 2003 on the effects of biophilic design on office workers. They tested their theory by refitting a call center with biophilic elements like views of nature and plants. After some testing, those exposed to nature handled calls 6-7% faster than those who didn’t. Once the office was upgraded, the investment was paid back in four months and generated extra savings. 

As biophilic design advances and organizations and designers see the benefits, expect it to become commonplace. The upside is impossible to ignore, even for the most unconvinced among us.

Gochman, Sam. “Seeking Parks, Plazas, and Spaces – Terrapin Bright Green.” Blog- Terrapin Bright Green,

Heschong, Lisa. Heschong Mahone Group. “Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment.” California Energy Commission: Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Fair Oaks, California. 2003c.

todd Miller

has spent his entire career in the metal building products manufacturing industry. He is president of Isaiah Industries, an organization recognized as one of the world’s leading metal roofing manufacturers. Todd is currently Vice President of the MRA (Metal Roofing Association) and a Past Chair of MCA (Metal Construction Association). Through his website, he strives to raise the bar on standards and practices to provide property owners with the best possible products for successful roofing projects.

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