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A Review of Psychological Literature on the Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Biophilic Design


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Biophilic design has received increasing attention as a design philosophy in recent years. This review paper focused on the three Biophilic design categories as proposed by Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese in "The Practice of Biophilic Design". Psychological, peer reviewed literature supporting the benefits of Biophilic design was searched for through the lens of restorative environments. Results indicate that there exists much evidence supporting certain attributes of Biophilic design (such as the presence of natural elements), while empirical evidence for other attributes (such as the use of natural materials or processes) is lacking. The review concludes with a call for more research on restorative environments and Biophilic design.
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Buildings 2015, 5, 948-963; doi:10.3390/buildings5030948
ISSN 2075-5309
A Review of Psychological Literature on the Health and
Wellbeing Benefits of Biophilic Design
Kaitlyn Gillis * and Birgitta Gatersleben
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Humans Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford,
Surrey GU2 7XH, UK; E-Mail:
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail:;
Tel.: +44-(0)1483-689306.
Academic Editor: Mallory Taub
Received: 7 July 2015 / Accepted: 19 August 2015 / Published: 25 August 2015
Abstract: Biophilic design has received increasing attention as a design philosophy in
recent years. This review paper focused on the three Biophilic design categories as proposed
by Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese in “The Practice of Biophilic Design”.
Psychological, peer reviewed literature supporting the benefits of Biophilic design was
searched for through the lens of restorative environments. Results indicate that there exists
much evidence supporting certain attributes of Biophilic design (such as the presence of
natural elements), while empirical evidence for other attributes (such as the use of natural
materials or processes) is lacking. The review concludes with a call for more research on
restorative environments and Biophilic design.
Keywords: biophilic design; restorative environments; built environment; environmental
1. Introduction
Biophilic design is a design philosophy that encourages the use of natural systems and processes in
the design of the built environment [1]. Biophilic design is based on the Biophilia hypothesis, which
proposes that humans have an innate connection with the natural world [2] and that exposure to the
natural world is therefore important for human wellbeing. However, human interaction with nature is
often lacking in modern day societies [3] due to societal trends such as urbanization, building design, and
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lifestyle. The idea behind Biophilic design then is to incorporate natural features and systems into the
built environment in order to provide human beings with their much-needed exposure to nature [1].
Biophilic design has received increasing interest from the building industry around the world in
recent years. Two building rating systems that originated in the United States but are being promoted
globally incorporate Biophilic design directly; these are the Living Building Challenge [4], which
incorporates it through the Biophilia Imperative, and the new WELL Building Standard [5], which
incorporates it through the Biophilia Precondition and Biophilia Optimization. Consulting firms have
also championed the concept, notably Terrapin Bright Green, who have published various white papers
on Biophilic design [6] and Interface flooring, who have created a Human Spaces website [7] to
encourage discussion around Biophilic design.
This paper will review evidence for Biophilic design and will focus on environmental psychology
literature, which has a long tradition in examining the potential healing benefits of exposure to nature
and natural elements as proposed by environmental restoration theory. The paper also discusses
differences in the way individuals respond to nature. The paper will argue that there is a need for more
evidence to demonstrate how the different elements of Biophilic design affect different people.
2. What is Biophilic Design?
Biophilic design encourages the use of natural elements and processes as design inspiration in the
built environment [1]. The idea behind this is that exposure to natural environments and features have
positive effects on human health and wellbeing, which has been supported in a wealth of research [8].
According to the Biophilia hypothesis, these positive effects of exposure to nature originate in a
biological bond between humans and the natural world [2]. These ideas have been taken forward in two
theories developed in the Environmental Psychology literature: Attention Restoration Theory [9] and
Stress Recovery Theory [10]. Both theories suggest that some environments are stressful, others are not
and yet others can actively help people recover from stress and mental fatigue. Environments that evoke
positive moods, have properties that draw people’s attention without being stressful or demanding, can
help people recover more quickly and fully from mental fatigue and stress are known are restorative
environments [11]. According to Kaplan and Kaplan [9] and Ulrich and colleagues [12] natural
environments in particular contain elements that promote renewed attention by providing a sense of
being away, fascination, extent and compatibility [13]; and by containing elements that promote survival
and therefore positive appraisal [14]. Urban environments, on the other hand, tend to be full of
demanding, stressful, under stimulating or boring features.
Biophilic design then suggests that built environments could be made more restorative by
incorporating natural elements in their design. Gifford and McGunn [11] suggest that Biophilic design
can be viewed as belonging under a larger restorative design umbrella. Much of the small but growing
peer-reviewed literature on Biophilic design often cites research on restorative environments to support
the health and wellbeing benefits of Biophilic design [15–17]. Although the concept of Biophilic design
is relatively new, the plethora of research on nature and restorative environments makes a strong case for
the health and wellbeing potential of incorporating Biophilic design attributes into the built environment.
However, this research does not always test all aspects of Biophilic design and although there is
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significant evidence for the beneficial effects of exposure to natural environments, evidence for other
Biophilic aspects, such as the use of natural materials, is sparse.
The evolution of Biophilic design characteristics has lead to the recently published document
“The Practice of Biophilic Design” by Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese [18]. The document
details the three experiences and 24 attributes of Biophilic design, and is an update on previous literature
on Biophilic design [1,3]. The three experiences and 24 attributes are listed in Table 1.
Evidence from over three decades of research on the impact of nature on human health and wellbeing
can justify the claim that Biophilic design is beneficial, although academic literature looking specifically
at Biophilic design is still relatively rare. One of the first academic papers on Biophilic design came from
Joye [17] who looked at empirical research from various fields of psychology and how it applied to
Biophilic design. Joye [17] concluded that existing research, mostly in the field of restorative
environments, lends support to the ideas of Biophilic design. The review [17] did not look for specific
literature on Biophilic design attributes [1], as this review does. Likewise, in a chapter on restorative
environmental design by Hartig and colleagues [19] restorative environments were looked at as a basis
for Biophilic design, but the chapter does not does not review specific Biophilic design attributes;
instead support for Biophilic design was focused on general support from restorative environmental
design research. Several years have passed since these reviews were conducted, and the evidence in
support of Biophilic design has increased. The current paper attempts to evaluate the evidence for each
of the three experiences distinguished by Kellert and Calabrese [18] to support the theory that Biophilic
design is beneficial for psychological wellbeing.
Table 1. Experiences and attributes of Biophilic design by Kellert and Calabrese [18].
Direct Experience of Nature Indirect Experience of Nature Experience of Space and Place
Light Images of Nature Prospect and refuge
Air Natural materials Organized complexity
Water Natural colours Integration of parts to wholes
Plants Simulating natural light and air Transitional spaces
Animals Naturalistic shapes and forms Mobility and wayfinding
Weather Evoking nature
Cultural and ecological attachment
to place
Natural landscapes and ecosystems Information richness -
Fire Age, change and the patina of time -
- Natural geometries -
- Biomimicry -
3. Method
The review provides a specific environmental psychology perspective on Biophilic design.
Environmental psychology focuses on studying interactions between people and their physical (natural
and built) environment and therefore is particularly useful for understanding Biophilic design. The
literature review examines literature on people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the natural and built
environment (with reference to Biophilia) as well as their behaviours, feelings and experiences in such
environments. As such the review will draw on two important theories in environmental psychology
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literature: Attention Restoration Theory (ART) [9,13] and Stress Recovery Theory (SRT) [12] to examine
the evidence for positive experiences in environments with natural elements. Scopus and PsychInfo were
used to search for peer-reviewed, academic literature in the field of psychology. The review searched for
evidence of positive effects of each of the three Biophilic experiences on a range of psychological
outcomes such as improved cognitive functioning, reduced stress, and improved mood, which all
contribute to improved health and wellbeing. Figure 1 details the search methodology for this narrative
review. A vast amount of psychological literature was looked at for this review, which gives an overview
of some of the key findings. It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provide an insight into the quality and
quantity of evidence for each of the three Biophilic experiences as found in psychological literature.
Literature review Process
1. Databases:
Scopus, PsychInfo
2. Sources from
Biophilic design literature
Restorative environments
literature search
Key Terms
Key Terms
Attribute (or similar)
Inclusion Criteria
academic journals
Language (English)
Exclusion Criteria
Not related to environmental psychology
and/or built environment
Figure 1. Narrative review process.
4. Results
The following section details the results of the psychological literature search on the three Biophilic
design experiences. Some overlap exists between the independent variables (the 24 attributes) explored
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in research and this was mentioned in the overlapping attributes. For example, water will be seen as
being highly restorative in the built environment from both direct and indirect nature experience.
Moreover, different natural elements often feature together in environmental design, making it difficult
to distinguish clearly between different aspects of Biophilic design.
4.1. Direct Experience of Nature
The direct experience of nature experience and its relevant attributes yielded the most peer-reviewed
research for this paper. The direct experience of nature means having a direct contact with nature and
natural processes [18]. The eight Biophilic design attributes that are used in this experience are listed in
Table 1. The most researched attributes in this experience category in psychological literature are the use
of plants in the built environment and natural landscapes and ecosystems. Additionally, research from a
restorative environments perspective was also found on natural day, light, water and weather. Literature
exists on the wellbeing benefits of the other attributes but inclusion of them was outside the restorative
environments focus of this review paper.
4.1.1. Natural Light
Natural light has been promoted by various disciplines as being beneficial for wellness of building
occupants, including psychology [20]. However, in the research for this paper few results were found
that studied restorative environment research along with natural light. This may be due to the fact that a
psychological theory on the benefits of natural light has yet to be described [21] although Beute and
de Kort found that daylight was associated with perceived restorative potential [22]. Most of the research
on the benefits of natural light is approached through a biological explanation, such as circadian rhythms
and vitamin D production [21]. From a Biophilic view, humans evolved under natural, diurnal light
conditions and therefore natural light and natural light processes should be preferred and most
beneficial. From research on restorative environments, Zadeh and colleagues looked at the restorative
potential of natural light and windows [23]. This quasi-experiment found that the availability of natural
light and windows significantly improved mood and communication amongst nurses. Although the use
of windows and natural light may be confounding, a study on children in a classroom in Sweden [20],
found that children in rooms with daylight fluorescent lighting without windows had improved
concentration when compared when compared with children in classrooms with no windows and
conventional lighting. This study also lends support to the simulating natural light and air attribute in the
indirect experience of nature category. Daylight spectrum lighting that changes throughout the day to
mimic natural light, such as circadian lighting, could be a way to better reap the benefits of natural light.
4.1.2. Water
Water has also been found to be restorative, both through views of water [12] and sounds of water [24].
Kaplan and Kaplan [9] note how preferred environments often have a view of water and this was also
found in various other studies [25–27]. In fact, images of the urban environment that contained water
were found to be even more preferred than nature images containing no water [26]. As with views to
nature, the quality of water impacts the restorativeness, meaning that brown, dirty water will be less
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restorative than clean water [26]. Incorporating clean water elements into the built environment has also
been suggested by Ryan and colleagues [15] as a way to tap into the Biophilic benefits of water. Articles
that have focused on the psychological benefits of water have noted that there is much research on the
physiological benefits of water, however less so on the psychological wellbeing benefits. As part of the
results of a systematic, meta-analysis conducted by Volker and Kistemann in 2011 [27], water was found
to be restorative.
4.1.3. Plants
Plants have the ability to directly bring green, living nature into the indoor environment.
Psychological studies have demonstrated the health and wellbeing benefits of placing plants inside.
Bringslimark and colleagues [28] conducted a review of this evidence and concluded that plants have a
beneficial effect on stress reduction and pain tolerance. In an earlier study, Larsen and colleagues [29]
found that as the density of plants increased in an office setting, productivity decreased. At the same time,
positive affect increased. This is in contrast to a more recent study by Nieuwenhuis and colleagues [30] who
found that perceived and actual productivity increased for occupants in a green (including plants) office
space when compared with a lean (minimalist) office space.
Although much research has been conducted on the health and wellbeing benefits of plants, little
research has been done on the qualities of plants that humans prefer. In a study by Qin et al. [31], various
plant types were tested to identify the most beneficial type of plant based on psychological and
physiological assessment. The results indicate that small, green, lightly scented plants were the most
optimal for health and wellbeing. Plants with red flowers were found to be fatiguing after a period of
time [31]. This could be explained by research on colour and creativity, where red has been found to be
beneficial on tasks that require concentrated attention [32].
4.1.4. Weather
Academic literature on the role weather plays on psychological restoration is limited; however, there
is some evidence supporting this attribute. In terms of this attribute in relation to the interior
environment, the argument made by Kellert and Calabrase [18] is that there is importance for building
occupants to maintain a connection to the exterior world, including its natural processes. People have
been found to prefer sunnier weather and that this weather also is rated higher in terms of perceived
restorativeness potential [22]. This lends support to the psychological restoration potential of the type
daylight, depending on the levels of sunshine. Translating this to the built environment further supports
the psychological benefits of natural light, while at the same time considering the quality of natural light
that people are exposed to while indoors.
4.1.5. Natural Landscapes and Ecosystems
The view of greenery from a window, which is listed under the natural landscapes and ecosystems
attribute, has been shown in several studies as having beneficial effects on the wellbeing of building
occupants. A major study by Ulrich [33] was on the benefits of green views when recovering from
gallbladder surgery. Patients who were recovering in a room with views to green trees recovered faster
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and required less pain medication than patients whose view was of a brick wall. This is a good indication
that in the built environment context, the type of view does matter. The type of view was also found to be
of importance in a study by Felsten [34]. More in depth-results of this paper will be discussed in the
images of nature attribute. However, Felsten found that a mundane view of nature during the late Fall
was less restorative than a simulated view of nature containing water and more dramatic nature [34].
This study again points to the significance of understanding the restorative potential of a natural view,
especially in climates and seasons where lush, green nature is unavailable.
In areas where an urban environment is the limiting factor towards viewing green nature, the
availability of green roofs have been found to be restorative. The extent of restorative potential depends
on the type of vegetation, with a popularly used vegetation type, sedum, being viewed as not being
significantly more restorative than non-vegetated roofs [35]. The authors note that the sedums used on
the pitched, residential roof were not green but rather reddish, which may have affected the appraisal of
the roof [35]. In a recent study of the micro-restorative potential of flat green roofs, white flowering,
green roofs were found to provide a micro-restorative effect on attention after only 40 s of viewing the
roof [36]. The authors of this study noted that they compared a white flowering flat green roof with a
barren grey roof; whether the largest effect of the roof was due to the greenness or white flower aspect
remains to be studied.
4.2. Indirect Experience of Nature
The second experience proposed by Kellert and Calabrese [18] is the indirect experience of nature.
This experience is important, as direct contact with nature may not be possible in every design situation,
such as in certain medical environments, and looks at representation of nature in the built environment.
This experience has ten attributes, which can be found in Table 1.
4.2.1. Images of Nature
The use of images of nature in the built environment has been widely investigated in environmental
psychology. Images of nature have been found to be as stress reducing as actual views of nature in
certain circumstances [37]. Building occupants’ need for human interaction with nature is so strong that
office workers have been found to compensate for a lack of nature exposure by adding images of nature
to the office environment [38]. By incorporating permanent Biophilic features into the built
environment, designers can ensure that everyone reaps the benefits with contact to nature, and not just
occupants that feel comfortable with personalizing their space, or those who have the ability to do so.
In an environment where direct exposure may not be possible, such as a sterile medical environment, images
of nature can provide a connection to the natural world for both patients and medical professionals.
Images of nature can even be more restorative than the view of real nature, depending on the content of
the image and the view of nature. Using Attention Restoration Theory (ART) as a framework, Felsten [34]
asked students to imagine they were mentally fatigued and to rate various images on their perceived
restorative potential. Felsten [34] found that students perceived mural views of nature with water as the
most restorative, even more than actual views of nature through a window of what Felsten calls
“mundane nature” [34], meaning that the trees were devoid of leaves, since it was late Autumn.
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Therefore, images of nature may have a large role in environments where exterior views with lush nature
may not be possible, due to seasons, adjacent buildings, or external environment.
4.2.2. Natural Materials
Natural materials are another Biophilic attribute that falls into this experience but this attribute has
received limited attention in academic research from a psychological perspective. The limited research
demonstrates that the amount and type of material is important for perceived restorative quality and
preference. Nyrud and colleagues [39] manipulated images of a patient hospital room with different
quantities and layouts of wood, using wood that was commonly used in the Norwegian building
industry, which was the location of the study. The amount of wood in a patient room that was most
preferred was an intermediate amount, with the floor, one wall and furniture being made of wood.
An entire wood surfaced room and a room with no wood were the least preferred amongst respondents [39].
Although the respondents had the same overall preference, there were differences, with physicians
providing overall higher ratings for the images than nurses [40]. The results of this study again
demonstrate that the amount and type of Biophilic feature, as well as the target audience, needs to be
considered in design. In terms of other research on natural materials, for this paper wood was the only
material found that was related to Biophilic design research. This provides an opportunity to investigate
other materials, such as natural stone, various clays, strawbale, hemp and other types of wood. Materials
that are indigenous to a building location could also be further investigated.
4.2.3. Natural Geometries
This attribute primarily deals with fractals, although also includes other natural geometries such as
the Fibonnaci sequence as well [18]. The study of fractals offers an explanation as to why humans are
restored by nature. Fractals occur when a pattern repeats itself as it gets smaller or larger, what Joye [17]
refers to as “self-similarity”. Kellert [1] notes that some notable historical buildings contain fractals, which
includes Gothic architecture, notably cathedrals [17]. Fractals have been found in many natural elements, for
example the romanesco broccoli. This could be an explanation as to why natural environments are often
preferred over built ones [40] or why fractals have been used in historical architecture.
4.3. Experience of Space and Place
The third and final experience, the experience of space and place, relates to the spatial elements of the
natural environment and how to replicate it into the built environment [18]. There are six attributes in
this experience, which are listed in Table 1. Based on the review of psychological literature on
restorative environments, three attributes will be discussed.
4.3.1. Prospect and Refuge
There has been work done on prospect refuge theory, however not in relation to restorative
environments [41–43]. One study on prospect and refuge in relation to restorative environments was
found for this paper [44]. The study was done in the natural world and did not use the built environment,
much like many of the previously cited studies related to restorative environments. Nature that is
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non-threatening is thought to be restorative and this can be applied to the built environment context as
well. Results from this study demonstrated that nature with high levels of views and low levels of
prospect were deemed restorative; nature with low level of views and high levels of prospect were not.
Although being in nature may have the potential of being more threatening than a controlled
environment in a building, the authors attribute the results in part to wayfinding, which has been studied
in the built environment context. Wayfinding is the ease at which a person can manipulate an environment.
When a person has problems finding their way, their levels of stress rise [45].
4.3.2. Cultural and Ecological Attachment to Place
Another attribute proposed by Kellert and Calabrese [18] in this experience is cultural and ecological
attachment to place. Place attachment is an area of research in environmental psychology that “refers to
the sense of rootedness people feel toward certain places, a phenomenon sometimes called a sense of
place” [45]. The work that is relevant here is work on favourite places, which have been associated with
place attachment and restoration. But this work is conducted by only a handful of authors namely
Korpela [46,47] and Hartig [47]. Places that are perceived to be highly restorative have been found to
have strong place attachments for people [48]. In relation to this, in a 10-month longitudinal study,
natural environments, most likely due to their ability to afford restoration, have been found have a
stronger attachment as a favourite place [46]. An application of this with regards to Biophilic design or
built environments that incorporate nature was not found for this paper. Although the literature on
favourite places suggests that there is a link between place attachment and restoration this is highly
subjective and an experience that develops over time and perhaps not something that is simple to design.
It must also be noted that restorative environments do not need to be natural, which agrees with
Gifford and McGunn’s statement [11] that Biophilic design falls under a larger umbrella of restorative
design, and not necessarily vice versa. In a purely restorative environments context, Ouellette, Kaplan
and Kaplan [49] looked at a monastery as a restorative environment using ART as a framework and
found that the monastery served as a restorative experience. Through self-reports of the study’s
participants, the environment was noted as being restorative due to the soft fascinating elements of the
architecture, in agreement with ART. This could be applied to other environments as well, such as the
home. This does not take away from the benefits of Biophilic design. Literature, as identified in this
paper, on the benefits of incorporating nature in the built environment would suggest that while other
environments can be restorative, incorporating Biophilic attributes in to these same environments might
only increase the restorative potential of the environment.
5. Individual Differences
Individuals may respond differently to Biophilic elements, which need to be considered in Biophilic
design. Van den Berg and ter Heijne [50] found that male individuals and those that are higher sensation
seeker respond more positively to threatening encounters in nature than females and those that are lower
sensation seeker. Also found by Van den Berg and ter Heijne [50] was that any type of nature could yield
fear. This can be translated into the built environment, notably with environments that have high
prospect but cause some people who are fearful of heights to become stressed. Another individual
difference is that not everyone actually likes nature [51] and that this should be considered in design. In
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this study, Bixler and Floyd also note that this may be due to people being used to a building
environment, where the environment is relatively controlled [51]. Biophilic design may increase the
likeability of nature by more exposure to natural processes and elements in a controlled environment.
This can increase a person’s connection to nature [52] and may encourage them to engage more in
wilderness nature.
Individual differences in the built environment context have also yielded significant results. In a study
by Kweon and colleagues [53], images of abstract and nature art produced significant decrease in anger
and stress in male office workers, but not female. The abstract art used in the study was Biophilic in
nature, which was noted by the authors as explaining the results, since previous research had indicated
that abstract art was distracting [53]. Differences between genders in restorative environments were also
found by Shibata and Suzuki [54], where females demonstrated improved performance when plants
were incorporated into the room when compared with males. In both studies, context is important, where
the type of task [54] and environment may play a large role in the different outcomes by gender. This can
be used by designers when considering Biophilic design by understanding the type of task and stressors
that people will experience in their environment.
6. Current Trends in Biophilic Design
Although much research on restorative environments has focused on the visual sense, recent research
in the field of restorative environments has yielded a shift from the visual sense to the auditory sense and
olfactory senses. This shift supports Kellert and Calabrese’s statement that the experience of nature is
multisensory [18]. Referring back to the study by Qin and colleagues [31] on the use of plants, the type of
plants that were most highly rated as restorative were those that were slightly fragrant. Additionally, the
sound of bird song [55] and nature sounds including water has been perceived to be highly restorative [24].
Part of the complexity of Biophilic design is that although much research has been done on the
individual elements of Biophilic design (e.g., Plants, images of nature, and natural light) the
combinations of elements has received little attention in research. The first longitudinal study on a
Biophilic-designed space that incorporates various elements of Biophilic design is currently underway in
Australia [16]. The study looks at natural light, plants, natural ventilation, prospect and views, use of
non-synthetic materials, recycled materials, and an open-plan workspace. The space that is being studied
is a work-site construction office and the first paper of the two-year study was published using three
months of data. The preliminary results after three months indicate that the various benefits of Biophilic
design are being realized in the space. This includes reduced stress, improved productivity, and
improved wellbeing, which all fall under the benefits of being in a restorative environment as well.
As stated by Kellert [1], Biophilic design works with low-impact environmental design to create
buildings that are what he calls restorative environmental design, which are not to be confused with
restorative environments which is a focus in this paper. With the current focus on green building design,
Biophilic design attributes have an opportunity to enhance green building design strategies. Biophilic
design is incorporated into the Living Building Challenge [4] which is perhaps the most progressive
green building rating system on the market, and in order for a building to achieve “Living” certification,
it must meet the requirements for each of the 20 imperatives, including Imperative 09 Biophilic
Environments. Imperative 09 requires that the design team look at the six Biophilic elements as proposed
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by Kellert [1] and demonstrate how they have been incorporated into the design. Beyond this imperative,
the Living Building Challenge (LBC) also has other imperatives that touch upon Biophilic attributes,
such as Imperative 07, Civilized Environment, which promotes fresh air and natural light for building
occupants (Attributes 1 and 2; see Table 1) Imperative 16, Universal Access of Nature and Place and
Imperative 19, Beauty and Spirit. Imperative 16 ensures projects do not impede upon natural light, fresh air,
or disturb natural waterways on adjacent developments and people (Attributes 1, 2 and 3; see Table 1), while
Imperative 19 ensures that projects integrate elements that are pleasing for people, which could include
cultural and spiritual celebration (Attribute 24; see Table 1).
The WELL Building Standard is a brand new rating system that was launched in 2014 and focuses on
the human health and wellbeing in the built environment [5]. This standard includes two areas that are
dedicated to Biophilic design, one compulsory and the other optional, with the compulsory area being
modelled after the LBC Imperative 09, Biophilia. Other areas in the system exist that tap into Biophilic
design as well, such as areas that focus on providing outdoor air, on-site food production, daylight and
circadian lighting, as well as the potential for other areas as well. This is a positive step towards
integrating more Biophilic design principles in the built environment.
In another recent publication on Biophilic design, Terrapin Bright Green synthesize the concepts put
forth by Kellert [1], Cramer and Browning [56] and others and propose 14 patterns of Biophilic design in
order to help aide designers in creating Biophilic space [15]. This is a good start and opportunity for
designers who are looking for design advice to go when searching for Biophilic design strategies.
Biophilic design does not need to follow a rating system in order to be successful. The most important
aspect of Biophilic design is tapping into the innate connection humans have with the natural world and
ensuring that people feel this connection while inside. Historical evidence supporting this design
philosophy dates back millennia [57]; well before the establishment of a rating system and even current
buildings may have Biophilic design properties without being labelled as such. The benefit of
incorporating Biophilic design into a rating system is that rating systems have the ability to shift the
conversation in the building industry. This has been seen in recent years with green building rating
systems, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Building Research
Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) rating systems [58]. As it stands
right now, WELL is extremely new and already much talked about, collaborating with the United States
and Canada Green Building Councils [59] and the LBC is only growing in uptake, with eight projects
having achieved “Living” certification since its inception in 2006. By identifying rating systems that
directly use Biophilic design in them, the point of this section is only to inform of industry uptake in
Biophilic design directly; this does not mean that this is the only way to achieve a Biophilic space.
7. Conclusions
A review of Biophilic design from a restorative environment perspective yielded many results
demonstrating the benefits of Biophilic design for human wellbeing. It is acknowledged that the review
is by no means exhaustive and some of the attributes that have been proposed by Kellert [1] may have
been studied in areas of literature, inside and outside of psychology, and are not included in this paper.
However, the majority of work on Biophilic design refers to environmental restoration theory as an
underlying basis. As such this review focused on psychological literature examining the evidence for the
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restorative qualities of being Biophilic attributes, or the extent to which the presence of such elements in
a built environment can help foster recovery of stress and mental fatigue. Empirical evidence supports
the use of plants, water, wood, etc., in creating spaces that provide an opportunity for human wellbeing.
Three additional points need to be made in response to this review:
7.1. Biophilic Design is not a One Size Fits all Approach
Like many design philosophies, Biophilic design strategies need to be employed in consideration with
the building occupants, location, and function. There may be a threshold for the amount of plants and the
type of plants that will be beneficial for certain human activity. For productivity, a room with too many
plants may decrease productivity while improving affect [29]. A room with many red plants may be
psychologically draining on the occupants or can be beneficial for short-term concentrated attention [31].
Restoration does not need to happen at all times; it is situational and contextual, meaning that the needs
for a Biophilic home surrounded by green nature will be different from those of a Biophilic office in a
central, extremely densely developed urban environment. Sometimes nature and replications of nature is
not restorative and therefore stressful for humans [44], and when applying Biophilic principles into the
built environment, this needs to be considered. Finally, some environments can be restorative that are not
necessarily filled with plants [49].
Individual differences between building occupants also need to be considered. Men and women react
differently to images of nature, with men showing a marked decrease in anger [53]. Further individual
differences may also play a role but have not been studied much.
7.2. Suggested Areas for Further Research in Restorative Environments
Although nature is multisensory, the vast amount of research on restorative environments depends on
the visual aspects of nature. This is changing as research is looking at other senses with regards to
restorative potential, however for this review, much of the literature found depended on the visual sense.
The Biophilia hypothesis would suggest that much of nature and its processes are beneficial for humans
and therefore, restorative. This would include natural light, natural and indigenous materials, etc. and all
the human senses. However academic work for certain attributes, such as natural light and natural
materials, and their link to restoration was limited. As called for in other works cited in this review, more
research is needed in other areas of restorative environments, which is currently dominated by greenery.
7.3. Suggested Areas for Further Research on Biophilic Design
There is a need for a systematic review of the literature perhaps broadening it out to a wide range of
literature in psychology, health, planning, architecture and engineering. There is also a need to
understand more about the specific contribution of different design features not only in terms of
wellbeing—as was the focus of this review—but also in terms of sustainability, and to better understand
how different factors work together to achieve positive outcomes and optimize building design.
While individual attributes of Biophilic design have been studied on their own, there has been little
research on the various combinations of proposed attributes. Do plants and natural materials have a
larger impact than plants and water? Does natural light have a larger impact on attention than plants?
Buildings 2015, 5 960
How is research on natural light and concentration in school children coincided with ART and SRT?
There are so many exciting areas of future research on this topic and that of restorative environments,
which will yield a greater understanding of the mechanisms and potential for design based on a Biophilic
design philosophy.
The authors would like to thank Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese for granting permission to use
Table 1, experiences and attributes of Biophilic Design, from their work, The Practice of Biophilic Design.
Author Contributions
This paper is related to current MSc research by Kaitlyn Gillis on Biophilic design through the
department of Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey. Kaitlyn Gillis was the primary
contributor to this paper. Birgitta Gatersleben provided invaluable guidance and knowledge in the form
of paper organization, content contributions and revisions.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license
... In the environmental psychology literature, the most researched natural elements have been plants, followed by nature images (Gillis & Gatersleben, 2015). The findings on the effects of nature images on health and well-being benefit present associations with increased positive mood (Brooks et al., 2017), psychological relaxation (Song et al., 2019), and positive influence on creative performance (Lichtenfeld et al., 2012), and lowered blood pressure (Vincent et al., 2010). ...
... The findings on the effects of nature images on health and well-being benefit present associations with increased positive mood (Brooks et al., 2017), psychological relaxation (Song et al., 2019), and positive influence on creative performance (Lichtenfeld et al., 2012), and lowered blood pressure (Vincent et al., 2010). Design practitioners frequently have used natural materials to bring nature into a built environment, but empirical evidence for using natural materials is still lacking (Gillis & Gatersleben, 2015). McCoy and Evans's study (2002) is one of the rare findings that investigated the impact of natural materials and suggested the potential for enhancing perceived creativity. ...
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... Contact with nature is a way to promote psychological comfort and well-being as a restoration from stress [3]. This basic principle of biophilia can be found in the direct experiences of natural elements that attract human attention such as natural lights, air, water, plants, animals, landscapes, and other indirect experiences of nature; images of nature, natural materials, and cultural attachment to place [4]. ...
... Biophilia is a term coined by Erich Fromm in 1964 a social psychologist from German describing the human attraction to all things alive and vital [6]. The biophilic is a design philosophy that adopts biophilia in terms to suggest the built environment to be more restorative by incorporating natural elements [4]. The goal of biophilic design is to create artificial environments as similar as possible to natural ones, to ensure the positive effect that nature has on people's health and well-being [1,7]. ...
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... Biophilic design represents a holistic approach to the design of interiors and exteriors, where the focal point is the human being and its impact on their psychological and physical well-being and health. In combination with an approach that considers the long-term impact on the natural environment, we refer to it as restorative environmental design, which promotes individual health (Gillis, Gatersleben, 2015). ...
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... Following these approaches, positive factors in the space such as nature, Functional Hospitals for Humans art, colors, relaxing sounds, natural light, familiarity elements, etc. [13] can capture the person's attention and interest through positive feelings and reduce stressful thoughts [4]. Natural environments in particular contain elements that promote renewed attention by providing a sense of being away, fascination, extent and compatibility, to promote survival and therefore positive appraisal [8,10,14]. Multisensory encounters with nature in the built environment can greatly contribute to comfort, satisfaction, enjoyment and cognitive performance [15]. In addition, art in healthcare spaces can reduce the patient's sense of isolation and foster positive physiological and emotional responses, especially if it includes natural scenarios, promoting restoration, improving moods and encouraging communication [5]. ...
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... The students linked improved living experiences, involving more social interaction and focused studying, with the availability of a suitable outdoor landscape. This finding is supported by the literature on well-being in psychology [41,42]. The results also verified the importance of the support provided by multi-functional communal spaces for social interaction. ...
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This chapter provides a historical context to ideas and practices of design and nature, highlighting underlying tensions and problematic conceptions about nature in the Modern West. This history differs from broader theories of sustainable design in that I focus specifically on design's relationship with nature. I review various attempts to design with nature in past and recent history, with attention to how design and research are still embedded in a Western conception of our relationship with nature inherited from the Scientific Revolution. Despite aspirations of designers to connect emotionally, philosophically and functionally with the natural world, nature remains subjugated: an 'other'. I argue that with each 'new' approach to designing with nature from the Romantic Movement in the late 19th century, through to contemporary design and current design theory, designers inadvertently continue Modernist and colonialist power relationships that place humans at the top of a hierarchy, with nature at the bottom. These conditions are beginning to change as designers explore ecological theory beyond mainstream influences and as they engage with embodied research in direct relationship with nature.
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Humans are biologically connected to nature physically, psychologically, and spiritually. biophilic design is a new design approach to integrating natural elements into built environments to enhance human mental health, productivity, and well-being. There is still a need for more application of biophilic design in residential units and to enhance communication between humans and nature due to its positive effects on human health. This is due to the importance of the effective role of interior design by incorporating biophilic design elements into the design of residential environments. The author conducted a systematic review and analysis of the literature to understand the relationship between the application of biophilic design and its impact in various built environment activities on human health, well-being, and productivity. This study focused on using the descriptive analytical approach to collect information on biophilic design, its elements, and its various applications, and to study and analyze the opinions, needs, and suggestions of the respondents on the questionnaire survey to reveal the differences and similarities in detail through the author's use of the five-point Likert scale to measure the responses to the sections of the questionnaire survey. The results of the data analysis indicated the effectiveness of integrating bio-design in the design of housing units to improve human mental health and well-being, given the existence of a statistically close and direct relationship between man and nature. This study proposes to support positive interaction between man and nature in order to encourage a sense of responsibility towards society and nature and to continuously improve the quality of the indoor environment in residential units by integrating biophilic design elements for a healthy indoor environment.
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There is growing evidence to support the notion that plants can play an important role in providing a higher quality living environment. This study conducted a series of experiments to investigate the effects of characteristics, such as colour, odour and size of plants on human comfort, which was evaluated by a satisfaction survey and physiological measurements. Different kinds of plants with different levels of colour (green, tint and multicolour), odour (no odour, slight scent and strong scent) and size (small, medium and large) were chosen for the experiment design. A survey of participants' satisfaction degree as well as measurements from electroencephalogram (EEG), electrocardiogram (ECG), oxyhaemoglobin saturation, fingertip blood flow, skin resistance and respiration rate were utilized to illustrate the response of participants to the environments either with different plants or without plants. The results demonstrated that an interior office with plants was preferred over an office without plants. The environments with green, slightly scented and small plants were reported as the most favourite conditions. The EEG and oxyhaemoglobin saturation showed significant changes when plant conditions varied. These outcomes provided design strategies for incorporating the plants into the interior office spaces and also provided the physiological variables to evaluate human comfort in the outside environment.
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This paper discusses the first phase of a longitudinal study underway in Australia to ascertain the broad health benefits of specific types of biophilic design for workers in a building site office. A bespoke site design was formulated to include open plan workspace, natural lighting, ventilation, significant plants, prospect and views, recycled materials and use of non-synthetic materials. Initial data in the first three months was gathered from a series of demographic questions and from interviews and observations of site workers. Preliminary data indicates a strong positive effect from incorporating aspects of biophilic design to boost productivity, ameliorate stress, enhance well-being, foster a collaborative work environment and promote workplace satisfaction, thus contributing towards a high performance workspace. The longitudinal study spanning over two years will track human-plant interactions in a biophilic influenced space, whilst also assessing the concomitant cognitive, social, psychological and physical health benefits for workers.
This chapter provides an overview of theories on restorative effects of natural environments, along with a discussion of empirical findings and practical implications. Research into restorative environments has primarily been guided by two theoretical explanations: stress recovery theory and attention restoration theory. The chapter discusses three recent theoretical and empirical approaches that have focused on further unravelling the conditions and mechanisms underlying restorative environment experience. The approaches are perceptual fluency account, connectedness to nature, and micro‐restorative experiences. Findings from restorative environments research are increasingly being used to guide the design and management of natural and built environments. This is one of the reasons why restorative elements have become an essential part of so‐called evidence‐based design (EBD) of healthcare settings. The empirical evidence for restorative effects of nature is increasingly applied in healthcare and in urban and landscape planning.
This paper carries forth the conceptual framework for biophilic design that was first laid out by Cramer and Browning in Biophilic Design (2008), which established three categories meant to help define biophilic buildings - Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues and Nature of the Space - and a preliminary list of "biophilic conditions". New research and insights from the neurosciences, endocrinology and other fields have since helped evolve the scientific basis for biophilic design. This paper begins to articulate this growing body of research and emerging design parameters in architectural terms, so that we may draw connections between fields of study, highlight potential avenues for future research, evolve our understanding of biophilic design patterns, and capture the positive psychophysiological and cognitive benefits afforded by biophilia in our design interventions. © 2014 Archnet-IJAR, International Journal of Architectural Research.
The relationships between fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, desire for modern comforts, and preference for wildland and built environments and related activities were examined. Using a population of predominantly suburban and rural eighth-grade students (n=450), all three variables were found to be significantly related to preferences for wildland environments, recreational activities, and vocational preferences. Those with high fear expectancy, disgust sensitivity, and desire for modern comforts were more likely to prefer manicured park settings and urban environments and to dislike wildland environments. They were also more likely to prefer indoor social recreation activities and express significantly less interest in future careers working in outdoor environments. Finally, they were less likely to prefer appropriate water bodies for conducting an aquatic entomology lab. Studying negative perceptions may complement existing environmental preference research, which has tended to focus on why people prefer certain environments.
Based on attention restoration theory we proposed that micro-breaks spent viewing a city scene with a flowering meadow green roof would boost sustained attention. Sustained attention is crucial in daily life and underlies successful cognitive functioning. We compared the effects of 40-second views of two different city scenes on 150 university students’ sustained attention. Participants completed the task at baseline, were randomly assigned to view a flowering meadow green roof or a bare concrete roof, and completed the task again at post-treatment. Participants who briefly viewed the green roof made significantly lower omission errors, and showed more consistent responding to the task compared to participants who viewed the concrete roof. We argue that this reflects boosts to sub-cortical arousal and cortical attention control. Our results extend attention restoration theory by providing direct experimental evidence for the benefits of micro-breaks and for city green roofs.
Empirical evidences in the last three decades confirmed that designs that connect humans to natural contents and landscape configurations, help to enhance humans’ overall sense of wellbeing, with positive and therapeutic consequences on physiology. Findings in the field of environmental psychology showed also that these features have positive effects on human productivity and can reduce stress. Opportunities for contact with these elements are, however, increasingly reduced in modern urban life. Therefore, more attention has been recently paid by architectural theorists to find ways to reconnect the built environment to these elements. Biophilia is one of the most recent and viable reconnection theories in this field. This paper highlights the underpinnings of this design theory and addresses the assumption that one of the reasons behind the great admiration that most of the people have for historical buildings attributes to the biophilic qualities found in these buildings. By drawing inspiration from historical architecture, and by use of a qualitative analytical methodology that typify certain characteristics in then, this paper brings in conclusion specific biophilic strategies and settings that might help ‘bringing life to buildings’, as seen in these buildings.