A Guide to Biophilic Design – Function, Beauty, & Comfort

Building Green: Embracing Sustainability with Biophilic Design

By Amanda Winstead

Climate change is an ever-increasing concern. We are essentially living amid a crisis, and as such, it is vitally important that we start undertaking more drastic measures to mitigate further damage to protect and sustain the planet.

Already, governments and organizations across the globe are enacting programs and pushing for regulations to combat climate change. However, while corporations and governments carry the brunt of the responsibility, it is also up to smaller companies and everyday people to start adopting more sustainable practices. One such way of doing this is through sustainable building practices and green home renovations that prioritize biophilic home design.

What is Biophilic Design?

While many building companies and homeowners have been adopting more sustainable practices for years now, biophilic design is a much more focused approach. Biophilic design heavily prioritizes the importance of bringing nature into the building environment to establish a deeper connection with nature and reduce the building’s impact on the environment.

Biophilic design stems from the term “Biophilia,” which was first introduced in the 70s by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Fromm stated that biophilia stood for the “passionate love of life and all that is alive.” The term was later used by many scientists and philosophers, including Edward O. Wilson who explained that biophilia claims there is a link with nature that is not only psychological, but genetic as well.

See also: Can Biophilic Design Improve Emotional Wellbeing?

In other words, it’s about the human tendency toward wanting to connect and be one with nature. From these beliefs, biophilic design was born as it exists today — bringing nature back into our structures and community spaces to reconnect with nature. With it, we can be more mindful of our impact on the environment.

Biophilic design has become particularly important to many builders and homeowners today as escalating digitalization and urbanization have created even more of a gap between how we live our lives and our connection to nature. Thus, biophilic design has become a way for people to reclaim that connection, and find their way back to living happier, healthier lives that are more symbiotic with the natural world.

A Guide to Biophilic Design - interior of a building with plants visible inside and outside
Photo by Capricious Wayfarer (Saptarshi) on Pexels

Designing a Biophilic Home to Live a Greener Life

As climate change becomes an ever-expanding threat, the need for more sustainability in homebuilding and other structures becomes increasingly vital. Globally, 35% of energy consumption and emissions come from the building sector, with 8% from non-residential buildings, 5% from the building and construction industry, and 22% from residential homes.

Unfortunately, the construction industry historically has been very slow to adopt sustainable advances and practices, but the technology and resources are already available to do better. The key is for more people to start pushing for greener designs, especially in their homes. Focusing on biophilic design specifically could help propel the construction industry forward and help people lead more sustainable lives for a greener future.

Below are some specific biophilic design practices and green home ideas for those interested in designing and building more sustainable homes.

Conserve Water and Energy

When first planning the utility function of a home, designing for the conservation of water and energy is crucial. These are perhaps two of the biggest resources used in residential homes, or in any building for that matter, so it’s important to find ways to reduce usage to limit the impact the building has on the environment.

For water, you can install greywater tanks or systems to repurpose used water. Rainwater collection tanks can also be utilized to repurpose water for things like watering the landscape or garden, or even for the toilet and showering. Low-flow plumbing fixtures can also help cut back on water usage.

For energy conservation, you can look to renewable energy sources and energy-efficient home appliances and electronics. This includes solar panels, energy-saving HVAC systems, LED lighting, and Energy Star appliances. Installing more windows and skylights can also help bring in more sunlight so you don’t have to use electricity as much during the day.

The goal should be to harness natural energy as much as possible, so the home can be more self-sustaining. This can significantly reduce reliance on non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, which can be damaging to the environment.

Create Functional Green Spaces and Interior Landscaping

A key element in biophilic design is bringing the outside in. The more nature you can incorporate into the building design, the better. This not only helps create more sustainable homes, but it is also better for the health of those living inside the home as it improves air quality, helps alleviate stress, reduces allergens, and enhances overall well-being.

This can be done by integrating natural elements like plants, natural light, wood, and stone as much as possible. You can install water features inside, living walls, vertical gardens, and generally as much greenery as you can to help create a more natural living environment. Some people even grow trees inside their homes or indoor aviaries.

Utilize Sustainable Materials

Of course, another vital element when designing a biophilic home is using sustainable construction and design materials. When choosing the materials for a home, it’s important to consider their life cycle, such as where they came from and where they will end up. Reclaimed and renewable materials are best, as well as items made from recycled materials.

Furniture, for example, should be made from more natural materials like wood, stone, cork, and bamboo. Opting for fabrics made from more natural materials is also ideal, such as cotton, linen, coir, wool, and silk. The color palette of the furniture and designs can also be a more earthy, natural palette to further enhance the natural feel of the home, such as greens, browns, muted yellows, reds, and blues.

As for larger design and construction elements, look for green construction companies that are LEED-certified with the U.S. Green Building Council when hiring a builder to help with the renovation. Companies or contractors that are LEED-certified are more likely to prioritize using eco-friendly construction processes and materials, such as bamboo, bio-concrete, laminated timber, and other green materials.

Prioritize Natural Design Elements

When constructing the home or undergoing renovations, try to incorporate larger natural design elements as well. For example, building an atrium or a courtyard in the center of the house can help bring the outside in. It’s also important to install windows that are easily operable so you can get natural ventilation, which can improve air circulation for enhanced health and well-being.

Cool roofs or natural roofs are also excellent when trying to make a home more sustainable and more naturally comfortable. Cool roofs or natural roofs are typically made from more natural or light-colored materials to reduce solar absorption, which can help keep homes cooler without the need to blast the A/C and use up energy. Natural roofs can also reduce stormwater runoff, provide a natural habitat for local wildlife, and increase biodiversity, and they tend to last twice as long as conventional roofs.

The forms and shapes incorporated into the design and structure of the home should also have a more natural feel to prioritize the connection to the outside world. Fractal patterns, organic shapes, and curved lines, for example, can bring a touch of nature into the built environment. Anywhere there would normally be a harsh edge, try to consider a more natural shape, such as countertops, walls, door frames, floors, and even artwork and mirrors.

Build Up, Not Down

When considering the square footage of a home, it’s also important to think of ways to use up less ground space. Building homes and other structures — no matter how sustainable — requires using up land that is essential for the local habitat of wildlife and biodiversity. So it’s better for the environment if you can build up instead of out or down to use up less land. Building higher can also give the home the feel of being up amongst the trees, which can enhance the natural vibe.

Wrapping Up

Creating more homes in this manner is also a great benefit to our health and well-being. More naturally designed homes tend to feel fresh and have better air quality thanks to less use of toxic elements and improved natural ventilation. Spending more time outdoors in nature has also been shown to reduce stress and improve other health outcomes, so bringing more of the outdoors in can help people feel happier and healthier inside their homes.

Overall, the design of the home should prioritize sustainably functional design. The goal is to create a symbiotic relationship between the home, the people in it, and the nature outside of the home. Bring nature into the design as much as possible in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, and functional, and reduces environmental impact.

With more thoughtful design decisions that bring nature into the built environment and reduce reliance on non-renewable resources, builders and homeowners can help create a more sustainable future. This will become increasingly necessary as climate change continues to threaten our existence.


About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.