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Everything You Need to Know About Biophilic Design

  • 5 min read

We visited biophilia and its meaning in the first of my guest blogs. You will remember that biophilia refers to our need to connect with nature. As E O Wilson, the biologist who coined the phrase, said in 1984, “Biophilia is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Life around us exceeds in complexity and beauty than anything else humanity is ever likely to encounter.”

We have also looked briefly at how a popular form of nature, houseplants, can affect our health and wellbeing, our productivity and creativity and how they can even provide noise insulation and stress relief.

In this blog, it is the turn of biophilic design which is a broader topic but one which is being taken into consideration more and more by architects, designers and building standards such as the WELL Building Standards. But biophilic design is about more than adding a few, or even a forest, of plants to your office space.

If it's not about plants what is biophilic design all about?

As you might imagine, considering Wilson's words above, biophilic design is still very connected to bringing us closer to nature. This has become ever more important as urban conurbations take over and more and more of us work, and often live, in these overly built up areas.

There are several big voices on the subject with the two most often quoted being Oliver Heath from the UK and Bill Browning (Terrapin Bright Green) the guru from America. I suspect this group will grow too, bringing in experts from other cultures. With the idea of biophilic design already being embraced by architects and interior designers around the world, it is not surprising that many very large corporations (Google, Apple, Etsy, etc.) are investing in it too.

Oliver Heath believes that it is our 'diminished connection to nature, the increasing pressure on urban space & the ubiquitous technological presence that gives us less opportunity to recuperate our mental and physical energy. Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment hasve been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self- reported rates of well-being.' All good reasons to embrace it.

Bill Browning who formed Terrapin Bright Green, a consulting company in the US, confirms that 'biophilic design reduces employee stress, lowers blood pressure and improves cognitive performance'. He also adds that many companies that they work with use the concept to help them attract and retain staff.

Browning also put together a paper, the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, with two other main contributors and several others outlining the main concepts, all of which he goes into in depth. Within this paper, not only does Browning explain ways biophilic design can be implemented but he also explains how the physical effects of these interventions work on us.

So what is biophilic design?

Creating a workspace that is as close to the spaces in which we evolved and maintaining that contact with nature is perhaps the simplest way to give an overall definition. Many practitioners have defined the essentials of biophilic design to include:

  • contact with nature either directly or with views
  • natural light or lighting which mimics circadian rhythms (including task lighting)
  • water - the sound of water is soothing and can also dampen the sound of 'noise' in a workplace
  • air quality, humidity
  • natural materials or those that mimic the natural world
  • Contact with nature

As we have become more urbanised, we have also become more disconnected with nature so this element is very important for our wellbeing. Most of us in the Northern hemisphere spend at least 90% of our time indoors so no wonder we are disconnected. In fact, a recent study at Ambius found that we spend more time at our desks than we do in bed. What a strange way to live.

We have seen in the earlier blogs how including plants in the workspace workplace helps with our health and performance, so obviously the inclusion of plants, including green walls, are a good way to renew this contact.

But equally, views of natural surroundings outside can also help us to reconnect. The natural surrounding could be landscaped grounds or wild rather than manicured spaces as either help us to reconnect.

Another alternative is to use art works that reflect natural spaces just like the ones we have recently launched from Argenta Wellness.

Natural light

Having good natural light flowing into the workspace again helps to keep us grounded in nature. The circadian rhythms of light are what we lived and slept by before other forms of lighting were invented.

Of course, depending on the size of the workspace, this might be difficult for all personnel but task lighting can help especially if it offers 'day light' effects.


The sound of natural running water is probably the hardest of the 'natural' elements to implement in ordinary workplaces. Whilst we can all accept the fact that it can be soothing and that it can muffle other noises, not every building has the capacity or the budget to add this feature. However it is certainly something for large new-work builds, shopping centres and hospitality venues to be conscious of.

Air quality and humidity

Natural ventilation is good unless you are in heavy traffic areas where the incoming air may be polluted. But do not forget that often the indoor air can be even more polluted if windows cannot be opened. This takes us back to the NASA study which found that plants can help clean up the air -– that is the omissions from colleagues breathing, their perfumes and deodorants, hairsprays, etc. but also off-gassing of upholstery and carpets, emissions from electrical equipment, paper products and cleaning products.

Humidity levels affect our comfort too. Of course, plants can help with both of these issues although we are probably talking green walls to include enough plants for the job.

Natural materials or those that mimic the natural

Biophilic design increasingly uses real wood, stone and other natural materials in buildings. But where this is not possible because of existing structures or budgets, then patterns reflecting nature help.

Also designs, colours and textures taken from nature are all part of this aspect. So patterns such as webs, leaf structures, forest floors and more;  but also colours from greens, blues, browns, yellows and even red (fire) work too. Textures too, can imitate our natural surroundings and help to create a 'natural' space.

How we at Osmond Ergonomics can help

Our biophilia product range continues to expand. It now includes an extensive portfolio of beautiful fine art images that can be recreated on vinyl and almost any flat surface, including acoustic panels and furniture, using process that are ideally suited to the rugged demands of commercial premises. Our ability to provide a variety of bespoke options also allows us to offer a custom answer to your corporate needs.

If you would like to discuss your requirements with us please contact us online or call our expert team on 0345 345 0898.

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