The Benefits of Biophilic Design

2 months ago by

For the month of April we’ve put a special focus on projects and discussions around Design & Planet in alignment with our 2024 Autumn Conversations events. The author of this article, Miranda Brown, will be one of our featured speakers at the upcoming Ōtautahi Autumn Conversations event on 15 April.

Evidence based research on Biophilia and nature inspired art in the built environment for wellbeing and health benefits, in particular Health Care environments.  

As  humans  we  have  integrated  natures  symbols  and  cultural  narratives  into  our  built  environment and earliest human  structures including  represenations of animals and plants  to give symbolic meaning, share stories and connect people to place. 

The  fact  that  across  all  cultures  nature  themes  exist  in  historic  buildings  suggests  that  biophilic  design  is  not  a  new  phenominon  but  rather  a  natural  expression  of  an  intuitive  culture  that  understands natures  principles  and  the  human  need  to  incorporate  nature  in  the urban environment to maintain a vibrant and healthy life. 

Biophia human beings innate love of life’ 

The word biophilia originates from the Greek, ‘philia’ meaning ‘love of’.  It literally means a  love of life or living things. E.O. Wilson coined the phrase Biophilia in 1960’S. 

Biophilic Design is the process of designing for people in relationship to place by integrating  nature into the built environment to enhance human nature connection and creativity while  nurturing the local ecosystem. 

In biophilic spaces patients  recover  more  quickly,  students  learn  better,  retail  sales  are  higher, workplace productivity goes up, and absenteeism goes down.  

Sometimes the differences are up to 15 or 20% 

Samson Corporation Workplace – site specific

Visual art in hospitals: case studies and review of the evidence

Journal for the royal society for medicine:

Louise Lankston,1 Pearce Cusack,1 Chris Fremantle,2 and Chris Isles1 Author information 

That the arts and sciences are seen as two contrasting disciplines, and indeed are defined as  such,  immediately  presents  challenges  to  a  discussion  of  art  in  medicine,  one  of  the  foremost branches of science. There has, nevertheless, always been an awareness of the ‘art  of medicine’ and a realization that health is influenced by a wide range of factors, many of  which fall outside the conventional boundaries of medical science. As Kirsty Schirmer, Policy  Officer  of  the  Royal  Society  for  the  Promotion  of  Health,  argues,  ‘broader  determinants  impact on health and … often art acknowledges these determinants where science cannot’.1 

There is moreover increasing evidence  that  the display of visual art, especially images of  nature,  can  have  positive  effects  on  health  outcomes, including  shorter length  of  stay in  hospital, increased pain tolerance and decreased anxiety.2–5 

Visual images, which might be more easily incorporated into healthcare settings than videos  or  window  views  have  also  been  studied.  Levels  of depression  and  anxiety  tended  to  be  lower in patients undergoing chemotherapy who were exposed to visual art than in patients  not exposed to visual art.5

Nature  themes  were studied  by  Diette  and  colleagues  in  a  randomized  controlled  trial  of  patients  undergoing  flexible  bronchoscopy.  They  found  that  pain  control  was  significantly  better in the intervention group than in controls.4 

Ulrich investigated  the effects on patients  recovering  from open heart surgery of exposure  to one of the following: an image of nature, an abstract image or no image. Patients exposed  to  the  nature  image  experienced  less  postoperative  anxiety  than  either  of  the  other  two  groups. They were also significantly more likely to switch  from strong analgesics to weaker  painkillers  during  their  recovery.  Of  note  the  patients  exposed  to  an  abstract  image  experienced more anxiety than those with no image.2 

Impact of Visual Images on Health 

A compelling body of evidence in place today argues for the role of nature images in visual  art  to  improve  the  patient  experience  of  healthcare  through  reduced  stress,  anxiety,  and  pain perception, and improved perception of quality of care (Hathorn & Nanda, 2008; Nanda,  2011; Ulrich, 2009).  

‘The  combination  of  bright  colors,  engaging  themes,  and  nature  content  is  consistently  highly rated by pediatric patients.’ 

The biophilia effect doesn’t require real natural environments. Imagery of nature is enough  to see the effect including visual design and nature inspired art 

Based on research by Ulrich, summarized in Kellen 2005. 

Burwood Hospital curtain design

The Economics of Biophilic Design 

Reference: Terrapin whitepaper Biophilia_Terrapin-Bright-Green-2012e.pdf 

‘We believe  that incorporating nature into  the built environment is not just a luxury, but a  sound  economic  investment  in  health  and  productivity,  based  on  wellresearched  neurological  and  physiological  evidence.  In  this  paper,  we  will  share  several  examples  of  small investments involving very low or no up-front cost, such as providing employees access  to  plants,  natural  views,  daylight,  and  other  biophilic  design  elements.  These  measures  provide very healthy returns. Integrating quality daylighting schemes into an office space can  save over $2,000 per employee per year in office costs, whereas over $93 million could be  saved annually in healthcare costs as a result of providing patients with views to nature 

One  of  the many  components  of  biophilia’s  influence  is  the  connection  that  humans  have  with  certain fractal  patterns that  appear  commonly  in  the  natural  world.  Fractal  patterns  found  in  nature  can  positively  affect  human  neural  activity  and  parasympathetic  system  mechanisms.  

Test  results showed  that  subjects  were  more  wakefully  relaxed  when  exposed  to  natural  landscapes with the study concluding that in environments with many stimuli and patterns,  the  patterns  that  are most  likely  to  hold  our  attention  and  induce  a  relaxed  response  are  fractal patterns commonly found in nature (Hagerhall, 2008).

Daylighting harnesses the power of biophilia. Daylight affects both our eye functions and our  inherent circadian rhythms. When there is an imbalance of serotonin and melatonin in our  bodies,  our  sleep-wake  pattern  is  disturbed,  which  in  turn  inhibits  our  neurological  and  immune system functions.  

Sunlight on a clear day is 500 to 1,000 times greater than artificial lighting (Boyce, 2010).  

This is an important consideration while designing indoor environments to incorporate more  natural light. These explanations of nervous system activity in mankind provide some of the  fundamental physiological value of biophilia.  

Over  fifty  studies have  been  published  that  associate  biophilic  elements  as  primary  influences  for  faster  recovery  rates  for  patients,  decreased  dependency  on  medication,  reduced  staff  and  family  stress,  and  improved  emotional  wellness  as  a  result  of  natural  daylighting and views to nature. In 1984, Roger Ulrich pioneered a seminal study to measure  the  influence  of  natural  and  urban  sceneries  on  patients  recovering  from  gallbladder  surgery. Some patients were provided with views to nature, whereas others looked at brick  walls. With  all  other  variables  equal,  his  findings  revealed  accelerated  recovery  rates  and  reduced  stress  for  the  patients  who  had  views  of  nature.  On  average,  patients  whose  windows  overlooked  a  scene  of  nature  were  released  after  7.96  days,  compared  with  the  8.71  days it  took  for  patients whose views were  of  the  hospital’s exterior walls  to  recover  sufficiently to be released—a decrease of 8.5% (Ulrich, 1984).’ 


Creative New Zealand: Arts in health: a review of the medical literature ternational_literature.pdf?1411611918 

Living Futures Institute 

Biophilia & Healing Environments: Healthy Principles for Designing the Built World.  Salingaros, Nikos & Ryan, Catherine. 2015. Terrapin Bright Green & Metropolis Magazine. 

“Inducing physiological stress recovery with sounds of nature in a virtual reality forest — Results from a pilot  study.”  

Annerstedt,  Matilda,  Peter  Jönsson,  Mattias  Wallergård,  Gerd  Johansson,  Björn  Karlson,  Patrik  Grahn,  Åse  Marie Hansen, and Peter Währborg. Physiology & Behavior 118 (May 2013): 240-50.  doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.05.023.  

“Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings.”  

Baicker, K., D. Cutler, and Z. Song. Health Affairs 29, no. 2 (February 2010): 304-11.  


“The influence of school architecture on academic achievement.”  

Tanner,  C.  Kenneth.  Journal  of  Educational  Administration  38,  no.  4  (February  2000):  309-30.  doi:10.1108/09578230010373598.  

About the Author:

Bio: Miranda Brown has been a leader in the sustainable design movement for the past two decades and is driven by regenerative principles that look after nature and all life.“ Essentially my practice is all about connecting people to the beauty of nature to enhance wellbeing and to inspire people to look after our natural world. Research shows us that when people are connected to their place they look after that place. Our role is to be the Kaitiaki, guardians of the creatures, the air, earth, water and life force – the mauri ” Miranda’s unique art and biophilic design work is integrated into projects and the built environment where she connects people to nature through creative community engagement, site specific art commissions, biophilic consultation and her interiors range of textiles and wallpapers. Her portfolio includes commercial and residential projects, workplace, health and hospitals, aged care, hotels and public spaces. View

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