Biophilic design is one of the hottest trends in architecture and interiors today. But what exactly is biophilic design, what does it look like, and is it really good for us? Let’s learn more about this trend and the debate over its value.

A glass office building with a strip of plants built into the exterior wall.

What is biophilic design?

‘Biophilia’ can be defined as a love of nature. So, ‘biophilic design’ covers all designs that centre on nature. Many scholars attribute the term ‘biophilia’ to biologist Edward Wilson. He first described the concept in a 1984 book. In recent years, a growing number of corporate buildings, as well as interior biophilic design examples, have started to garner a lot of attention. However, the idea of bringing plants into and around buildings has existed for millennia. For example, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Alhambra of Granada are arguably early biophilic designs.

Biophilic designs include a range of concepts that a designer or architect can incorporate into their building designs. Some of the most common ideas include:

  • Addition of plants and trees into walls, interior design, roofs, and landscaping
  • Use of natural light
  • Attempting to break down the barrier between inside and outside, via extensive use of skylights, sliding doors and balconies
  • Introduction of water features
  • Where possible, encouraging wildlife, particularly insects and small birds
  • Using images and colours associated with the natural world
  • Copying the random patterns found in nature within facades, floor plans or wallpaper
  • Using natural materials, particularly timber, clay or wool in the structure and furniture

 

Related: What is sustainable architecture?

Which surroundings would you prefer?

To understand the appeal of biophilic design, compare the following two scenarios:

Option 1: Each morning you go to work in an office in a glass and steel building. The lobby is all hard marble floors, grey furniture, and straight lines. You catch the lift to your office, where you see row after row of desks, chairs and monitors. Out the window, you have a view of concrete buildings and busy roads.

Option 2: Entering your office building you hear the sound of a fountain and notice flowers in bloom. The flowers attract the butterflies that live in the lobby. The building’s entrance area features wavy timber facades and huge amounts of natural light. Once you get to your office, it’s almost as if you entered a greenhouse. The space is full of a variety of house plants, a green wall, and ergonomically designed seating and desks laid out across the floor. You notice a bird at a feeder on one of the windows, before it flutters off.

 

For many people, the second office – which includes several common biophilic elements – may be much more appealing.

5 examples of biophilic building designs

Here are five famous examples of buildings that demonstrate biophilic design concepts.

Biophilic design blends with nature - the Apple Park office is a large circle with a park outside and inside the buildings, giving all office space a view of green space.

  1. Apple Park, California, USA

Apple’s new campus is widely regarded as one of the leading examples of biophilic design. The doughnut-shaped structure copies the natural curves found in nature and brings light into the offices from every angle. A new, 9,000-tree woodland also surrounds the campus.

Tall apartment building with trees and shrubs growing on the balconies.

  1. Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy

The Bosco Verticale (‘vertical forest’) are two residential towers in Milan, whose walls and balconies are covered in thousands of shrubs and bushes. Captured rainwater systems irrigate the greenery.

  1. Rolls Royce, Chichester, England

The HQ of engine manufacturer Rolls Royce in southern England features one of the world’s largest green roofs – with thousands of square feet covered in native plant species. This also helps to insulate the building and control stormwater runoff.

The exterior of The Spheres, Seattle, at night, glass in honeycomb structured panels that reveals plantlife inside.

  1. The Spheres, Seattle, USA

The eye-catching Spheres at e-commerce giant Amazon’s Seattle offices are a fantastic example of biophilic design. The three transparent greenhouses are packed with a variety of plants, making for a unique workplace.

The man-made tree structures of the Gardens of the Bay in Singapore, against a clear blue sky

  1. Singapore

The entire city-state of Singapore is, arguably, the world’s first ‘biophilic city’. The authorities have made extensive efforts to incorporate plants, water and wildlife into buildings, parks, streetscapes and government offices.

5 examples of biophilic interior design

Biophilic interior design: a living room with windowsill covered in houseplants and hanging plants with vines coming down from the ceiling.

In many ways, biophilic home design and biophilic interior design have always existed – people have had house plants as long as they’ve had homes. That said, the following five examples of interior design have really taken the concept to the next level.

  1. Second Home, Lisbon, Portugal

This coworking space in the Portuguese capital is one of the most exciting examples of biophilic interior design. The Second Home office is packed with thousands of house plants, which make for a truly unique place to work.

  1. Karolinska Indoor Fitness Centre, Stockholm, Sweden

This interior fitness centre includes many of the features of biophilic home design, including images of nature, plant life and natural materials in the gym.

  1. 1FA cafe pavilion, London, UK

This cafe features a miniature indoor green roof, natural materials and designs that imitate patterns found in nature.

  1. Citibank Banking Conservatory, Singapore

This Citibank office in Singapore truly brings indoor and outdoor together. The biophilic interior design surrounds meeting rooms, event spaces and focus areas with native plant species.

  1. Living Grid House, Singapore

The Living Grid House is a fantastic example of biophilic house design. With skylights letting light flood in, interior green walls and extensive use of house plants, it also makes for a fantastic example of thoughtful biophilic home design.

What are the benefits of biophilic design?

A large hall, one interior wall is covered with ivy and other plants.

Proponents of biophilic design point to a wide variety of benefits that come from this approach. These include:

  • Productivity: Various studies have shown that when people are close to nature they are more productive, focus better, and study harder.
  • Reduce stress: It has long been believed that being surrounded by greenery and other plant life reduces stress, and scientific research also supports this hypothesis.
  • Health benefits: Studies have also shown that when people are surrounded by nature, they recover from illnesses and injuries faster.
  • Better for the environment: Planting more trees and shrubs provides many benefits to the environment, from capturing carbon to encouraging biodiversity, and providing climate resilience by, for instance, slowing down stormwater flows.
  • Ventilation: Especially when it comes to biophilic home and office design, some proponents of the concept believe using plants can clear pollutants from the air.

 

Recommended: Principles of sustainable building design

Criticisms of the biophilic design concept

Asian woman spraying the leaves of a large houseplant, behind her there are many other plants in a home that has a biophilic interior design.

Biophilic design is a relatively new concept. So, there have been few – if any – rigorous scientific studies which prove that it really is as beneficial as its supporters claim. Here are some of the most common criticisms:

  • Sloppy concept: There has been little to no serious academic study that proves biophilic design directly improves productivity, cleans air, or makes people happier. While it is true that some highly productive companies like Google or Apple use biophilic design in their offices, this doesn’t prove office plants are the cause. Since those businesses attract the brightest and the best, their staff would likely be very productive anyway.
  • Use of non-native species: Some biophilic designs could also be damaging to local biodiversity by introducing non-native species that compete with local flora and fauna.
  • Costly and hard to maintain: Effectively maintaining large numbers of house plants, green walls, and other green design elements is much more time consuming than traditional building maintenance. It may also require larger amounts of water and energy.

Is biophilic design right for you?

Whether or not you’re convinced by biophilic design concepts, it is an undeniably compelling idea. Many of its benefits are also hard to deny. So, how can you incorporate biophilic designs in your surroundings?

If you’re already using biophilic design in your buildings or offices, use PlanRadar to manage and monitor your maintenance processes.