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May 30, 2024

What Is the Meaning of Biophilic Design?

With the rise of eco-friendly living and passive home construction, looking to nature in interior design and architecture has become automatic. Nature-inspired design actually has a name: biophilic design. It can take many shapes, from landscaping ideas that use local plants and flowers to oversized windows that let in the most natural light possible. It includes green roofs and live plant walls. There’s a lot to love about biophilic design, and odds are you’re already incorporating some elements of it in your own home. Read on to learn more about this nature-centric design style.

josefkubes//Getty Images

An exterior living wall using rainwater runoff to sustain plants.

What Is Biophilic Design?

Biophilic design describes interiors and architecture planned with a nature-first mentality. Whether it’s ample windows and natural light, eco-friendly materials, or live walls and greenery, biophilic design encourages people to commune with nature while, most times, still indoors.

In architecture, the biophilic design style is often seen in green roofs, plant walls, and heavy landscaping, even in urban areas. Inside, however, the emphasis is placed on bringing as much nature in as possible to create harmony between the industrial setting and the world outside.

History of Biophilic Design

Biophilic design, when compared with Art Deco or Brutalism, is a relatively new concept. While other architectural styles were born out of industrial evolution and creativity, biophilic design has largely emerged out of necessity. It’s a movement by architects and designers to encourage a reconnection with nature in an increasingly digital age. According to research done by the University of Minnesota, “the dominant approach to modern building and landscape design largely treats nature as either an obstacle to overcome or a trivial and irrelevant consideration. The result has been an increasing disconnect between people and nature in the built environment reflected in inadequate contact with natural light, ventilation, materials, vegetation, views, natural shapes and forms, and in general beneficial contact with the natural world.”

roof garden

Paulo Pereira//Getty Images

A green roof.

5 Key Elements of Biophilic Design

Biophilic design can be direct (using elements like trees, grass, water, fresh air) or indirect (natural colors, images of nature, organic shapes and materials). Biophilic design also incorporates “experience of space and place,” examples of which are urban courtyards, natural installations in office buildings, and miniature parks in major cities where direct nature access is slim.


Shade Degges

Access to Nature

Whether through large windows that are able to be opened or balconies, porches, or yard space, biophilic design prioritizes access to nature. In largely urban areas or high rises, this can take the form of increased natural light, green spaces on a roof or common terraces, or interior landscaping.

living room with potted plants

Per Magnus Persson//Getty Images

Ample Greenery

Rewilding lawns, using local plants in landscaping, and cultivating houseplants (even in office buildings) are ways to incorporate biophilic design without undertaking a renovation or structural change.

a room with a table and plants

Photo: Roger Davies/OTTO Designer: Jamie Bush

Focus on Health and Well-Being

Biophilic design prioritizes human health and wellness by providing clean air, calming soundscapes, and low-stress environments. A fitness center with large windows and plants incorporated into the design is a good, simple example. The Natural Resource Defense Council also notes that including natural surroundings in the workplace has been proven to increase creativity and productivity.

Furniture, Room, Bedroom, Interior design, Bed, Property, Floor, Ceiling, Wall, Bed sheet,

John Staffer

Soothing Colors and Sights

To further prioritize health and well-being, biophilic design utilizes colors that are found in nature. Brown, green, and blue are the three most common hues, but you’ll also find calming yellows and neutral hues to complement the natural color palette.



Natural Materials

Biophilic design doesn’t have to mean living in a jungle. You can incorporate this style by layering in natural textures and materials. Think jute rugs, wool blankets, rattan, and raw wood—all accessible, tangible ways to reconnect with the natural world.

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