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The Natural Answer to Productivity, Longevity

By Alana Spencer, LEED AP BD+C
April 23, 2018

Biophilic design. The term itself demands attention and entices intrigue, it’s immediately engaging. The term truly lives up to the intent of its benefits. Not a new philosophy, yet still highly underutilized in design.

So, what is it? The foundation of biophilic design incorporates nature and natural elements, materials, and forms into architecture, landscaping and interiors to enhance occupants’ cognitive functionality. Biophilia aims to increase focus, productivity and boost well-being. Biophilia is becoming more and more prevalent in design and it couldn’t come at a better time with increased urbanization and continual construction. Human beings have a psychological need to be around and have a connection to nature.

A Harvard Business Review article from 2015, stated that “after a 40-second micro break, subjects who see green roofs, instead of concrete roofs demonstrate higher concentration levels: 6% increase in concentration for those who saw a green roof; 8% decrease in concentration levels for those who saw the concrete roof.”

And surprisingly, studies have found that even looking at pictures of nature have the ability to alleviate feelings of stress and enable better focus. With the connection to nature through interior and exterior elements, occupants will ultimately benefit from design that keeps human beings in mind:

  • Improve short-term memory
  • Restore mental energy
  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Enhance vision
  • Improve concentration
  • Sharper thinking and creativity
  • Improved mental health

At Vanderweil, we partner with owners and architects to incorporate biophilic elements into projects, such as interior living walls, green roofs, internal courtyards, rain gardens, vision glazing with floor layouts that enable occupants to view exterior landscaping. These features allow occupants access to natural materials in the interior and exterior of the space and encourages them to connect to nature.

Which such elements, including views to the exterior it’s important to balance natural light so that occupants aren’t exposed to too much light thus, working negatively against well-being. As a best practice, biophilic design will work hand-in-hand with: lighting design to maintain circadian rhythm and optimal lighting levels for activities; furniture, floor layouts to promote access to biophilia; sustainable materials selections to better enhance indoor air quality.

The WELL Building Standard, focused the enhanced occupant experience, and the Living Building Challenge, each include biophilia in their rating systems; where WELL is modeled after LBC requirements. The focus addresses environmental elements, lighting and space layout for a combined positive outcome.

Additionally, there has been an increasing interest on the importance on using SITES, the sustainable landscaping initiative framework for exterior landscaping design. For sustainable land design and development used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, and policy-makers. SITES offers a comprehensive rating system which acknowledges that people are a part of, not apart from, the environment and has developed a section of design metrics that address the human health attributes of landscape design. Certification is for development projects located on sites with or without buildings. Benefits intended from the rating system include:

  • Re-connection of humans to nature
  • Enhanced physical, mental, and social well-being
  • Education that promotes understanding of natural system, the value of landscapes
  • Encouraging cultural integrity and regional identity
  • Community involvement and advocacy

Biophilic design is not another passing trend. But a practice that will become inherently more important in the future of design, interiors/exteriors, and architecture. Possibly even, a future guiding principle.


  • SITES Rating System
  • WELL Building Standard
  • Psychological Science, 2008; PLOS ONE 2012
  • Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012; Journal of Cardiology, 2012
  • Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013
  • Harvard Business Review, Gazing at Nature Makes You More Productive, Nicole Torres, 2015

Published in High Profile's May 2018 Edition