Interior design: Biophilia

Biophilia is design concept that connects humans with the natural world, providing a positive impact on health, productivity and wellbeing

by Jackie Tyrrell
Words Jackie Tyrrell

In recent times there’s been a significant shift of approach in interior design that strives to enhance human wellness and betterment. Architects and designers have been considering novel approaches not just to how a space can look better, but how it can be better for the humans that occupy it. Biophilic interior design focuses on creating a space connected with nature. The term biophilia was first used by the German-born American social psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), to describe a psychological tendency in humans of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.

However, the concept is not new. Over 2000 years ago the Romans were designing homes with outdoor spaces. In the classic layout of the Roman Domus, the atrium, an open central hall, served as the centre of the house’s social, business and political life. It was open at the roof, which let in light and air for circulation, and also allowed rainwater for drinking and washing to collect in the impluvium, a shallow pool sunken into the floor. The peristylium, an open garden courtyard within the house, offered a tranquil refuge from stress, noise and crowds. The occupants sought to create healthier cleaner air, wanted improved scents and less noise pollution specifically to improve health and wellbeing.

It is essential that interior design primarily focuses on the human experience and considers the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the people that will occupy a particular space. Contemporary interiors are increasingly incorporating biophilia as a holistic approach to design to promote health, safety and welfare.

As cities grow taller and denser, many structures consist of windowless spaces with artificial light. This lack of daylight significantly affects the physical and mental health of those spending time in these environments. To combat such issues, biophilic design looks at the impact that nature has on humans. It then works to incorporate these positive aspects into our everyday lives.

Biophilic design can be organised into three core principles – Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues and Nature of the Space. These core principles encompass fourteen patterns of biophilia.

Nature in Space

This literally means to bring the outdoors inside. It addresses the direct, physical and ephemeral presence of nature in a space or place. This can be achieved by including plant life, animals, water, sounds, scents and other natural elements that will ignite the five senses. The seven biophilic design patterns that make up this category are:

1. Visual connection with nature: 

Stimulating views to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes. This can include a window with a garden or sea view, potted plants, flower beds, courtyard gardens or artwork of natural scenes. Experience: Stimulating or calming. Conveys a sense of time, weather and living things.

2.  Non-visual connection with nature: 

Focuses on the non-visual senses. Listening to the singing of birds, the trickle of water flow, the crackling of a fireplace. Scent elements can include naturally fragrant plants or essential oils. Touch can be stimulated by using natural or artificially-textured materials or the opportunity to interact with an animal, and taste by a kitchen herb garden or edible plants. Experience: Fresh and well-balanced. Sounds, smells and textures that are reminiscent of being outdoors in nature.

‘For furniture, choose sustainable woods or other organic materials such as bamboo, which has great durability and strength’

Biophilia interior with many indoor plants by a large window

3.  Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli: 

The rich sensory stimuli of nature, inconsistent yet unpredictable motion, such as the movement of a cloud, the flicker of a flame, the sway of grasses, leaves in a breeze or ripples on water. Experience: A brief but welcome distraction that is interesting, stimulating and energising.

4.  Thermal and airflow variability: 

Changes in temperatures and airflow that occur in natural environments. This can naturally occur when the sun passes through a window or airflow across the skin. Subtle changes in air and surface temperatures can be introduced to mimic natural environments. It is common practice to keep the temperature at the same level all day but this is not recommended. Experience: Invigorating, refreshing, active and alive, but also comfortable.

5.  Presence of water

Water enhances the built environment experience since it can be seen, heard and touched. This can be achieved by including a water wall, an aquarium or simply by playing water sounds. Experience: Stimulating, powerful, fascinating and looks attractive…

  • ‘Interior design: Biophilia’ is published in Anthology Volume 16. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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