Demystifying Biophilia, Our guide to explain the theory and its many benefits

Our guide to the easy removal of houseplant flies

What is biophilia? 

First introduced in 1973 by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, biophilia is said to be the “passionate love of life and of all that is alive…whether in a person, a plant, an idea, or a social group”.  The term has been referred to and adapted many times since by numerous scientists. Perhaps the most recognised explanation of biophilia being one made by Edward O Wilson as “the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes”.  The term ‘innate’ implying the link is genetic as well as physiological as Fromm infers. And so, albeit the theory is still considered new, we now broadly refer to biophilia as ‘an inherent sense of fulfilment created by being surrounded by nature’.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilic design is a theory used within the building and design industry to consciously improve occupants’ connection with nature. Although a newly documented concept, examples of biophilic design in practice date back a long time. it is believed that king Nebuchadnezzar II constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 600BC as a gift for his homesick wife who longed for the lush vegetation and mountainous terrain of her native Mediass. Further examples can be seen in Umayyad Mosques (Damascus, Syria) built around 705AD and adorned with patterns found in nature.

Sciarid fly larvae feed on algae and fungi in damp compost, meaning they need moist conditions to survive.

What are the benefits of biophilic design?

Health benefits:

Given biophilic design is about embracing nature and natural qualities to tap into human’s intrinsically linked feelings of wellbeing, creativity, focus and calm, the most obvious benefit is on our health. The benefits can be summarised as:

Memory: Access to nature and green space is believed to improve memory by up to 20%.

Attention: Researchers at the University of Illinois found that children diagnosed with ADHD concentrate better and have a general reduction of symptoms after spending time in nature.

Stress & Mood: Studies have found that heart rates and levels of cortisol, the hormone used as a marker for stress, both lowered when individuals were surrounded by nature.

Immunity: Studies have found that children growing up in green environments have lower levels of asthma, improved mental health, and even decreased mortality rates. Forest bathing has been reported to increase intracellular anticancer proteins, suggesting benefits from nature on the immune system.

Recovery: Biophilic environments can improve human healing, with evidence suggesting that views of nature speed up the healing process after surgery and reduce occupants pain relief requirement.

Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the top few centimetres of compost

Environmental and Sustainability benefits:

Adding physical natural elements, such as trees and plants, wild meadows, vertical gardens, and green roofs, to the built environment, allows towns to manage rainwater runoff better as there are more pervious surfaces and better infiltration. There is a wealth of scientific evidence showing that adding greenery also reduces carbon emissions, urbanised heat build-up, and increases biodiversity.

It is believed that creating beautiful, nature-inspired environments builds a stronger bond between human and home. This bond leads to investment in the future of individuals and supports long-term mental health and physical health wellbeing. Furthermore, when the concept is expanded to an area, as opposed to a single dwelling, the benefit exponentially multiplies as societal ties strengthen. This creates a deeper support network by encouraging participation, embedding a resilience which can counteract mass stress or shock, and a lifestyle of active engagement in our own wellbeing and those around us.

Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the top few centimetres of compost

Economic benefits:

The aesthetic and psychological impact of biophilia creates economic benefits. People are willing to pay more for a holiday room with a sea view, and they will, regardless of menu choice, opt to eat at a restaurant with a well-designed outside space.

For homeowners, you can demand 7% more for the sale of your property if it has beautifully landscaped gardens. Furthermore, studies have found that properties inclusive of biophilic design could sell for 16% more than their standard counterparts.

Business owners can benefit from investing in biophilic design too. The mood boosting qualities will help reduce your employee absence and attrition rates, plus the scientific improvement on worker productivity will help boost your bottom-line profits.

The future of biophilia?

Nature supplies all that we need to exist. The sun supplies light and heat, the streams supply water, and the flora and fauna supply food and shelter. That has always been the case and always will be, so, to all intents and purposes, biophilia will ‘never go out of fashion.’  Furthermore, with the growing scientific evidence of the benefits, our heightened focus on environmental harmony and offsetting our carbon impact, plus the need to offset technological advancements, biophilic design is likely to strengthen.

Organisations are starting to incorporate biophilia into their building projects, with the two most prominent supporters being the WELL building standard and the Living Building Challenge.

So, when will biophilic design become a pre-requisite for the residential building market?

Artificial Walls