Biophilic design – more than just a green wall

  •   21 September 2020

Biophilic design has been derived from the work of E.O. Wilson on biophilia. Wilson defines biophilia as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature”.1 Biophilic design insists therefore that designs of all scales are to include nature and natural elements. Beatley and Newman explains that “…there is now a growing body of evidence of the positive physical and mental health benefits associated with greenery and green elements in living and work environments.” It can be shown for example that access to natural daylight, fresh air and plants can increase happiness and productivity within a working environment.2

Enter the ubiquitous ‘green-wall’. While green-walls do fulfil an aspect of biophilic design, there is so much more. To explain in more detail, we’re going to use the ETSY headquarters, designed by Gensler in New York which has received Petal certification through the Living Building Challenge (LBC)3 .

While the LBC does not have prescriptive goals for biophilic design, it provides six main biophilic design elements for designs to correspond to:

  • Environmental features
  • Natural shapes and forms
  • Natural patterns and processes
  • Light and space
  • Place-based relationships
  • Evolved human-nature relationships

Gensler have used these broad concepts on biophilic design to integrate planning, architectural, and operational principles into the project. While all of the design concepts are too long to even list here, we have selected aspects of the project to provide interior ideas on biophilic design that go beyond the green wall and natural light.

The use of straight walls and right angles have been minimised to mimic irregular forms found in nature and provide a sense of mystery. The ceiling has been left uncovered revealing the mechanical systems and structure representing both complexity and order of the natural world. A diversity of spaces including nooks and acoustically private spaces have been provided as places of refuge. Artwork and designer maker furniture pieces are littered throughout the workspace mimicking natural forms, materials and patterns and providing an indirect connection to the local maker community – also an important aspect for Etsy as a business. Different planes and perspectives have been created by incorporating internal bridges, ramps, steps and external pavers linking to biomorphic forms, patterns and materials. Of course, the use of natural, tactile and textural materials, finishes and furniture evokes the natural patterns and materials found in nature. Natural light has been manipulated through the use of screens and curtains combined with a variety of dynamic pendent lights simulating a night sky, clouds and other elements that creatively invokes biophilic design. A breathing room supports yoga and meditation activities for refuge and respite and a dog-friendly policy maintains a direct and tactile connection to the natural world. Biophilic design, while a buzz word for sustainable practices, when applied creatively across extensive aspects of a corporate fit-out, can provide positive working environments away from just the green wall.

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[1] Wilson, E.O. Biophilia and the conservation ethic. In Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species; Kellert, S., Wilson, E.O., Eds.; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1993. [Google Scholar] Wilson, E.O. Biophilia; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1984. [Google Scholar] Wilson, E.O. The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth; Norton and Company: New York, NY, USA, 2007. [Google Scholar]
[2] Beatley, T.; Newman, P. Biophilic Cities Are Sustainable, Resilient Cities. Sustainability 2013, 5, 3328-3345, p3328.
[3], accessed 2/4/20