What is Biophilia and why does it matter?

The Learning Escape at Bickley Park Bromley

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

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.

  • BIOPHILIA

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.

  • NATURE DEFECIT DISORDER

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.

  • GETTING BACK TO NATURE BY DESIGN

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.

Biophilic Design ideas 2.jpg

  • BIOPHILIC CLASSROOMS

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.

  • NATURAL LIGHT

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

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.

  • BEING OUTDOORS

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