The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Popularized by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, the term ‘biophilia’ literally means ‘love of life.’ We believe the built environment can be designed to help people feel and perform better through closer connection with the natural world.

In the continuing evolution of the global sustainability movement, Terrapin believes that we need to expand beyond how buildings impact the environment to include how buildings and nature interact to affect human experience. To this end, a project should strive to use biophilic design to maximize its value and the occupant experience.

Biophilic design is about recognizing humanity’s place in nature and using the built environment to maintain, restore, and enhance our physiological and psychological connections to the natural world. We care about biophilia in building design for two primary reasons. First, biophilic elements have demonstrably real, measurable benefits for human performance metrics such as productivity, emotional well-being, stress reduction, learning, and healing. Second, exposure to biophilic design patterns foster an appreciation of nature, which can lead to greater protection of natural areas, species conservation, and pollution prevention.

Three common domains of biophilia are nature in the space, natural analogs, and nature of the space. Nature in the space refers to the fact that spaces feel better when they are thoughtfully filled with fresh air, natural daylight, water features, and plant life. These natural elements can be functional as well, such as a green, planted wall that filters pollutants or a waterfall that is part of the cooling system. Natural analogs are the use of natural materials and natural forms in the design, ornamentation, and furnishing of a space. Nature of the space refers to a series of preferred spatial patterns, two of which are referred to as ‘Prospect’ and ‘Refuge’. Experiences of ‘Prospect’ – being able to look out from a high vantage over unobstructed space – are complemented by those of ‘Refuge’ – finding comfort in a small, protected, enclosed area. These qualities and others are important for creating spaces that are comfortable and interesting to occupants, as well as conducive to employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention.

The literature on biophilia spans a number of disciplines. These fields include, but are not limited to, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, archeology, landscape architecture, geography, neurobiology, endocrinology, ecological history, architectural history, and post-occupancy evaluation. At the core of the research is an interest in cognitive, psychological and physiological response to different environments. The results of this research can be categorized within the three domains as 14 patterns that inform the design in the built environment:

Nature in the Space
1. Visual Connection with Nature
2. Non-visual Connection with Nature
3. Non-rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
4. Access to Thermal & Airflow Variability
5. Presence of Water
6. Dynamic & Diffuse Daylight
7. Connection with Natural Systems

Natural Analogues
8. Biomorphic Forms & Patterns
9. Material Connection with Nature
10. Complexity & Order

Nature of the Space
11. Prospect
12. Refuge
13. Mystery
14. Risk/Peril


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