Everything you need to know to sound brilliant when talking about biophilia

Nash Emrich, Paladino and Company

Biophilia is a term that literally means love of nature. Stephen Kellert, who worked with E.O. Wilson wrote that biophilia is “a complex of weak genetic tendencies to value nature that are instrumental in human physical, material, emotional, intellectual, and moral wellbeing. Because biophilia is rooted in human biology and evolution, it presents an argument for conserving nature based on long-term self-interest.”

Obviously you can get some nature when you visit, you know, nature. But we need nature in our everyday lives – which is why it’s so important to bring nature into the built environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of their life indoors.

93%!

We get an accumulative one half of one day outside each week.

Ouch.

Thankfully architects, owners, and developers are getting wise to the power of nature, which is why biophilia is trending. Because more people are spending more time in cities, there is a chance that they will lose that important and powerful human-nature connection that Wilson and Kellert identified.

We need to create new interactions between people and nature in order to achieve the “happiness effect” that spending time in the natural world provides.

How? Here are some introductory concepts:

  • Look to environmental features like sunlight, water, plants, animals, and natural materials.
  • Bring in natural forms like botanical motifs, arches, domes, and biomimicry.
  • Incorporate natural patterns and processes such as multi-sensory experiences, patina, patterned wholes, and organized ratios and scales.
  • And finally, there is light and space – natural light is invigorating and supports the body’s natural rhythms, use filtered light, light pools, open spaces, and spatial variability.

You don’t have to create an indoor jungle to serve up a biophilic experience. Look at the Park, designed by Gensler in partnership with Paladino for The Tower at PNC Plaza – building tenants are able to get off of an elevator and step into a skyrise park. While it’s indoors, the temperatures follow natural variability to mimic the outside climate, it allows a visual connection to nature, abundant natural light, indoor plantings, beautiful views of nature, including Pittsburgh’s signature three rivers.

biophilia - pnc
“The Park” at the Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh

Nature is multisensory, and so should be the spaces we design. Use intentional design features to give people something to touch, smell, hear, and see. I leave taste to you. Instead of overcoming the impact of fluorescent lighting on the body’s natural rhythms, offer circadian lighting. Heal the chasm between our most natural selves and the artifice of the built environment.

Here are links to several of my favorite resources:

  1. Human Spaces
  2. Biophilic Design Initiative
  3. 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

Nash Emrich, AIA, LFA, LEED AP BD+C, is a technical consultant at Paladino and Company.

2 responses to “Everything you need to know to sound brilliant when talking about biophilia”

  1. Bob Fox says:

    Terrapin Bright Green, lead by Bill Browning, is doing the most important work on this subject and although you listed 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, your readers would have learned a lot more by quoting from that document.

  2. Nash Emrich says:

    Thank you for your response, Bob! We agree that Terrapin has an excellent collection of reports and studies, and they are worthy reads for anyone who is interested in deepening their understanding of biophilic design.

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