May 19, 2017 Sofia Siegel

Biophilia and Green Building

Photo Credit: Bill Browning

If you have been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in mentions of biophilia and biomimicry over the past few years. Though interrelated, biophilia and biomimicry are decidedly separate, and we wanted to help demystify biophilia!

The Biomimicry Institute defines Biomimicry as: “Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.” (see more here). Biomimicry is a method for solving problems.

Biophilia on the other hand, is the human affiliation for nature. Edward O. Wilson popularized the concept in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defined biophilia as “the innate tendency [in human beings] to focus on life and lifelike process.” Although Wilson was an evolutionary biologist, much of his findings supporting this hypothesis were based on anecdotal experience. In the decades since the book’s release, we have a much deeper understanding of this affiliation, and groups have done incredible work quantifying the benefits. Terrapin Bright Green’s paper 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design gives a thorough deep-dive into the relationships between nature, human biology, and the design of the built environment. The mind-body system is a powerful teacher and indicator of health and well-being, and built spaces that elevate the human condition, and consider the person in the space as a set of biological systems, achieve improved user experience.

Living Building Challenge (LBC) also emphasizes biophilia in their Certifications (Living Certification, and in their Petal Certifications for projects pursuing the Health and Happiness Petal). The most aggressive rating system on the market includes biophilia among their 20 contributing imperatives, and one of only three imperatives for the Health and Happiness Petal. By ensuring that projects are designed to include elements that nurture the innate human/nature connection, LBC considers the mind-body system, and broadens our perspective of health as it relates to green building. Not only is our air cleaner when we have plants in a room, but our minds are clearer, our stress levels are lowered and our bodies produce less cortisol.

Actually integrating biophilia into your own spaces is not as daunting as it may seem; there are a wide range of possible strategies and each has their own set of benefits. Decisions as simple as adding an indoor plant, or selecting a natural material over something fabricated, will improve occupant experience. Resisting all right angles and straight lines gives the brain a break; natural patterns and natural lighting literally brighten a room, and the occupant’s mood.

Biophilia is not a methodology, but rather a lens to guide design, that is rooted in hard science. What are some examples of biophilia you can see in the room you’re in? If the answer is “none,” we recommend making some changes!

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