TG Escapes Blog

Biophilic building design: What is Biophilia and why does it matter?

by Mark Brown | Feb 27, 2018 | Blog, Education

Biophilic classroom

“A love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms.”

Biophilic Design Building

The purpose of this piece is to explore the concept of biophilic architectural design and how it can positively affect the well-being of a building’s occupants and in turn their productivity and creativity. However, before the idea is more fully analysed, it is probably best to take a brief look at the origin of the word biophilia which is not in everyday vernacular use.


The phrase biophilia was first coined sometime in the 1970s by German-born psychoanalyst and social philosopher, Eric Fromm, to mean a ‘love for humanity and nature, and independence and freedom.’ In 1984, the US biologist Edward O Wilson published his work “Biophilia” in which he adopted and adapted the word to mean ‘the rich natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms.’ Wilson proposed that the tendency of humans to connect and affiliate with nature, and other life forms, is rooted in our genetic history but has been eroded by industrialisation and urbanisation.


Modern, sterile buildings and fast means of transportation cocoon their users from the natural elements. More recently, the exponential advancement of the technological revolution has effectively riveted us to screens and devices, serving to further weaken the bond between humans and the natural world. This is particularly so for today’s children and young people who simply cannot conceive of a world without smart phones, social media and perpetual connectivity.

A piece of work by Richard Louv, ‘The Last Child in the Woods’ (2005), defined a phrase applicable primarily to the modern child, growing up amidst the profusion and proliferation of modern technology, which he called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder.’ He uses the term to serve as a description of the human costs of divergence and alienation from the natural world. He hypothesises that spending less time outdoors and more time in front of a screen, has had a detrimental impact upon overall health and mental well-being with a corresponding negative effect upon children’s behaviour and capacity for learning.


There is now a growing body of scholarly interest and architectural innovation that is involved in promoting the benefits of biophilic building design. Essentially, the basic principle is to incorporate natural elements into any building (whether it be for living, recreation, working or learning) at every available opportunity, offering its occupants an opportunity to connect with nature.

Where possible, a building should be constructed using materials and textures that reflect or mimic those found in nature. They should maximise exposure to and penetration of natural light and provide for a healthy level of interior air quality. Wherever possible, they should provide views of (and access to) the natural world outside of the building.

Planning requirements are increasingly focused on the environment and social value. We provide the option of living roofs and biodiversity features such as bat boxes, birdhouses, trees and wildflowers to plant. This not only re-assures the planners but engages the wider community in environmental citizenship, and adds more biophilic design elements to a project.

Biophilic Design ideas 2.jpg


With specific reference to classroom design, a biophilic educational environment should seamlessly blend the work and pleasure of teaching and learning with the life enhancing effects of the natural world. Three of the most critical design elements are the exposure to natural light; views of nature and physical access to the outdoors.



One of the best-known benefits of exposure to natural light is its proven role in stimulating serotonin production. Serotonin is vital for several physiological functions including appetite, digestive and sleep regulation, whilst its psychological benefits are also significant. It plays a vital role in maintaining mood balance and promoting a sense of happiness: low levels are closely linked with depression.

Sunpipes and natural light by TG Escapes.jpg


Views of nature are increasingly being shown to be a positive antidote to chronic, low-grade stress which has been identified by the WHO as one of the two leading contributors to premature death in developed nations. The second factor is low physical activity, an inevitable by-product of modern, sedentary, often screen based, internal classroom environments.


A classroom design that encourages pupils to get outside into the natural environment, whether it be for play or learning opportunities, will have a positive impact on not only physical health but also mental well-being and socio-economic development. It has been shown to improve discipline and concentration; promote risk taking and creativity; generate a sense of freedom and adventure and encourage positive social interaction.

Access to the outdoors and views of nature in biophilic classroom design

In summary, a classroom environment that has specific biophilic design features, can have a significant impact on the students’ learning experience, both in the space and indeed outside of it. Healthier, happier and more engaged children (and their teachers too) are far more likely to make the most of the education opportunities open to them. We have produced a short download explaining the principles and showing examples of Biophilic building design and how they could be incorporated into TG Escapes Learning Escape's for education.

The Learning Escape eco-classroom @ Rolls Crescent Primary School with natural wall mural and light for Biophilic design

About the author

Mark Brown
Consultant at TG Escapes - Mark has spent time growing up with the army, studying computing before the internet existed, and founding The London Classic Theatre Company, self sustaining for over 25 years. He trained in marketing with Unilever before moving into advertising as a strategist with Leo Burnett, Creative Director at Starcom and founder of award winning creative agency Weapon7. He has a passion for eco buildings and helps run the social enterprise Street Wisdom, providing free creative walkshops around the world.

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