The feeling that comes from nature is hard to describe. Biophilia is one definition of this feeling, and was originally introduced by Edward O. Wilson in 1984. This intersection between the built environment and natural world fuels my passion for sustainable design and it’s why I am so excited to see that biophilic design has a significant presence at this year’s Greenbuild conference.

There’s no question that I behave and feel differently when I am hiking a mountain, floating a river, or riding singletrack through the trees. Stepping away from the demands of work combined with physical activity might explain it; however, even taking a quick break and looking out over the Puget Sound on my bike ride home in Seattle will inspire a change in my demeanor and stress level. I don’t feel this sense of wildness, perspective, and freedom when surrounded by concrete in a city or stuck in a typical office building looking at plastic furniture, ceiling tiles, and fluorescent lighting.

Biophilic Design - Aspen grove  cubicles

When taking an innovative design approach, there are always more questions than answers. Adding the biophilic challenge beyond the typical sustainability, budget, and timeline constraints is ambitious. Greenbuild attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the basics of biophilic design, evaluate a specific case study, and discover a concerted effort to create broad adoption of biophilic design principles.

Here are the sessions that I recommend:

1. The Theory of Biophilia and the Practice of Biophilic Design
Friday, October 7, 8-9 am

The Biophilic Design preface (Kellert, Stephen and Heerwagen, Judith) defines biophilic design as “an innovative approach that emphasizes the necessity of maintaining, enhancing, and restoring the beneficial experience of nature in the built environment. One of the authors of this transformative text, Stephen Kellert, will teach attendees about the basics of biophilic design.  For those that share the same passion for the natural world and how to bring it “inside,” this is a great starting place to learn about this new (but old) concept.

Presented by Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese.

2. Past the Green Wall: Google Pittsburgh’s Biophilic Workplace
Wednesday, October 5, 2-3 pm

Google has developed a Biophilic Design Framework to “create amazing work environments that inspire and energize Googlers to be at their best every day.”

While there are lots of simple examples of biophilic design, and lots of theory about how to properly implement it, there are still very few built spaces that actually achieve the same feeling and energy experienced in nature. Often projects pursuing a biophilic approach don’t get much further than a bunch of plants or a green wall.

Google is pushing the envelope of biophilic design to discover what is beyond basic design components. Attendees can learn more about the Pittsburgh biophilic workplace, lessons learned, and most importantly, what the next iteration will bring.

I’m curious to find out how the design team broke the mold with this challenge and what solutions and strategies they implemented. I also want updates – how is the space is functioning? Are the Googlers energized, inspired, and motivated?

Presented by Pete Jefferson, Kate Malmgren, and Connor Glass.

3. Biophilic Design: Achieving Broad Adoption
Wednesday, October 5, 2-3 pm

This workshop will explore the efforts to achieve broad adoption of biophilic design.

Lots of research and writing has been done since Kellert, Heerwagen, and Mador’s Biophilic Design was written (published in 2008). Many data points indicate the positive impact of integrating biophilic design elements into a built environment project.

So if we know that it’s good for us, and the numbers show the benefits to our health and productivity, why isn’t biophilic design standard operating procedure? This question could be applied to many facets of the green building movement and there is now a concerted effort to advance and expand the implementation of biophilic design principles into building projects.

To achieve widespread adoption, collaboration is key. As many different entities develop and implement biophilic design, it would be beneficial to share knowledge across project teams and locations. With rapid developments in communication technology and social media, there are opportunities to solve this issue.

However, giving someone a virtual reality headset to inspire them with a biophilic design case study may actually contradict the notion of designing to nature. In the age of technology and globalization, how does a movement like biophilic design leverage technology without compromising the desired outcome?

Presented by Amanda Sturgeon, Vivian Loftness, Bill Browning, and Richard Piacentini.

It is questions like these that make biophilia such an intriguing topic in the real estate industry. A range of emotions, critiques, and responses often confront an innovative approach like this. I stand with the intrigued and optimistic supporters. Where do you stand?

Check out these sessions, and report back!

Nash Emrich, Paladino and Company

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

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