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Biophilic Design & Complexity

A Toolkit for Working with Fractals


Fractal patterns are the intricate ubiquitous machinery behind nature’s order, allowing for all its complex processes to occur. In nature there is no chaos nor chance, rather a complex and perfect order. For context, the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design (2014) classified fractals as one of many analogues for nature’s propensity for ‘Complexity and Order’, as to indicate “rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature”. Yet science and mathematics tell us there is so much more going on with fractals that they could stand alone as a pattern or, perhaps more accurately, thread through any categorization of the biophilic experience.

The unique trademark of nature to make complexity comprehensible is underpinned by fractal patterns, which apply to virtually any domain of life; to the design of built environment, fractal patterns may present opportunities to positively impact human perception, health, cognitive performance, emotions and stress. Yet, designing with fractals can also come with implementation challenges.

This paper provides a high-level conceptual framework for thinking about designing with fractals, and for promoting restorative and satisfactory environments, with a focus on the indoor environmental quality. The paper includes primary scientific research on fractals, perception and health, metrics and terminology used to discuss fractals, and perspectives on design, technology and other factors than may influence the creation of fractal patterns for design projects.


This toolkit is the result of a joint effort between Terrapin Bright Green, European Cooperation in Science and Technology’s COST RESTORE action: “REthinking Sustainability TOwards a Regenerative Economy”, Eurac Research, International Living Future Institute and many other partners, including industry professionals and academics. 

Rita Trombin

Catherine O. Ryan

Belal Abboushi, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
Luca Baraldo, COOKFOX Architects DCP
Bethany Borel, COOKFOX Architects DCP
Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green
Judith H. Heerwagen, University of Washington
Giammarco Nalin, Goethe Universität
Kari Pei, Interface
Nikos Salingaros, University of Texas at San Antonio
Catherine Stolarski, Catherine Stolarski Design
Richard Taylor, University of Oregon
Dakota Walker, Terrapin Bright Green
Emily Winer, International Well Building Institute


Terrapin Report

Biophilic Design & Complexity

A Toolkit for Working with Fractals

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