The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2024)

Print/Save as PDF

Coined by psychologist Eric Fromm in 1964, biophilia refers to our innate connection with nature. It stems from the Greek words for “life” and “love” and explains why people around the globe enjoy experiences like walking through a forest or listening to ocean waves. Architects and interior designers have put biophilia into practice by creating connections to nature within the built environment.

This practice is known as “biophilic design,” and it offers many psychological benefits, including reduced stress and improved cognitive function. Due to the benefits, biophilic design has become a core component of building verification systems like the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

If you undertake an LBC project, you and your team will participate in a Biophilic Exploration, a workshop that helps you better understand biophilia and its connection to your project.

In the Biophilic Exploration, you will learn about Stephen Kellert’s six biophilic design principles. This article will discuss these six principles in more detail and provide examples, helping you explore ways your project can connect to nature.

Stephen Kellert was a professor of social ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Design. Throughout his career, he helped develop the field of biophilic design and became one of its biggest advocates. His six principles offer a practical framework for brainstorming design decisions, helping you consider how to incorporate nature into your project.

1. Environmental Features

Biophilic spaces often include well-recognized features of the natural world. Features like vegetation, water, sunlight, and natural materials create a more pleasing visual and tactile experience.

This principle can be applied on different scales. Some projects may stick to features like potted plants and materials like wood and stone, while others may incorporate larger features like courtyards, living wall planters, ponds, or fountains.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (1)

Indoor foliage at Kreg Tool's headquarters.

2. Natural Shapes and Forms

Using naturally occurring shapes, patterns, and forms is another element of biophilic design. These elements can include botanical motifs, spirals, arches, and curves.

Mimicking or recreating natural forms can create a symbolic and subconscious connection to nature. For example, an arched doorway or a vaulted ceiling may remind one of a cave, creating a sense of shelter and refuge.

3. Natural Patterns and Processes

This principle refers to the structures and laws of the natural world. Biophilic spaces may include patterns found in nature, such as fractals. They may also reflect natural processes, like growth or aging.

Whether we recognize it or not, these processes stimulate our senses. Evolvingmaterials like weathering steel reflect the passage of time, creating a more stimulating environment. Contrasting evolvingmaterials with static materials can create a rich and varied sensory experience.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2)

Weathering steel at St. Luke the Evangelist.

4. Light and Space

Daylighting is essential to biophilic design. Interior spaces with ample daylight can boost mood, improve productivity, and help regulate circadian rhythms.

Beyond standard lighting strategies, the principle recommends varied lighting to mimic how we experience light outdoors. For example, shadows and diffused light can mimic light filtering through a forest.

The principle also focuses on how occupants experience space. Varied interior volumes can mimic the experience of nature, reminding occupants of open skies or tree canopies.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (3)

Diffused light at One Place.

5. Place-Based Relationships

This principle encourages designers to avoid “placeless-ness” and root a building or interior space within its context. On a basic level, it involves using local materials, native plantings, and indigenous building techniques.

However, this principle is also about capturing the “spirit” of a place. In the LBC’s Biophilic Exploration, you learn about your local ecology, history, and culture. This information can inspire design ideas that root your project in its community context.

For example, you may incorporate local art or references to historic events or figures. Such design decisions create an emotional connection to the project and give people a deeper appreciation of their community and the environment.

Having a conversation about biophilia early in the design process allows you to better integrate these features into the design and create a more impactful project.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (4)

A map of Iowa City at the Downtown District's office.

6. Evolved Human-Nature Relationships

The last principle refers to our evolutionary relationship with nature and how we can recreate this feeling in the built environment. Designers can work to create a sense of:

  • Protection and refuge
  • Awe and excitement
  • Order and complexity
  • Exploration and discovery

These are all sensations we experience as we immerse ourselves in the natural environment. By identifying and naming these feelings, we are better able to integrate them into a building’s design. Readily experiencing the sensations of nature makes us more likely to appreciate and protect it.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (5)Order and complexity at Voxman School of Music.

Learn More About the Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is becoming increasingly popular—for good reason! These strategies can help improve occupant health and well-being and stimulate our senses.

Stephen Kellert’s six principles provide a great starting point for brainstorming design decisions. By thinking through these principles, you can visualize how your project can better reflect and connect to the natural world. While houseplants are a great start, there are many more to experience the benefits of nature.

If you start an LBC project, you will dive deeper into each of these principles in your Biophilic Exploration. Learn more by reading about how to prepare for the workshop.

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design (2024)


What is the principle of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic spaces often include well-recognized features of the natural world. Features like vegetation, water, sunlight, and natural materials create a more pleasing visual and tactile experience. This principle can be applied on different scales.

What are the pillars of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design can be organized into three categories – Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space – providing a framework for understanding and enabling thoughtful incorporation of a rich diversity of strategies into the built environment.

What are the 5 senses of biophilic design? ›

Proper Biophilic Design envelopes the 5 Senses: Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, and Hearing. Biophilic design is not about just adding some plants or an extra window to achieve your desired effect. Instead it is a multi-faceted approach that really aims to stimulate an outdoor, natural experience indoors.

What is the biophilic design philosophy? ›

It's a design philosophy centered around the use of natural elements like plants, wood, water, and natural light. The International Living Future Institute further defines the style: "biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities."

What are the principles and benefits of biophilic design? ›

As biophilic design aims to mimic nature, being in these kinds of rooms and spaces has similar health benefits to spending time in nature. Some of these include less stress, better sleep, and better for our eyes.

What are the principles of biophilic urbanism? ›

Biophilic urbanism seeks to integrate nature into the planning and design of urban spaces to pursue two main goals: making cities greener and improving the health and well-being of its inhabitants.

How many patterns of biophilic design are their? ›

IA's Diane Rogers, AIA, LEED AP ID+C, WELL AP, shares the principles of design that acknowledge, and ultimately deepen, our connections with nature.

What is the psychology of biophilic design? ›

What is Biophilic Design? Biophilia is a hypothesis first introduced by psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964 and then re-introduced by biologist Edward O. Wilson. It's defined as the human instinct and impulse to connect with nature and other forms of life.

What is the aesthetic of biophilic design? ›

Natural colours of furniture and interiors, as well as the use of organic, natural materials are part of the indirect aspect of biophilic design. The last principle of Biophilic design is about how our space makes us feel, and more specifically, how the natural elements within the space makes us feel.

Who is the father of biophilic design? ›

Stephen Kellert is known as a father of biophilic design because of his widely accepted principles and framework around the idea.

What are the disadvantages of biophilic design? ›

Potential Overuse: While the principles of biophilic design are powerful, there is a risk of overusing natural elements, leading to a cluttered or chaotic design. Striking the right balance is essential to create a harmonious and effective biophilic space.

What are the principles of nature based design? ›

Environmental features

Direct contact with vegetation, in and around the built environment, is one of the most successful strategies for fostering human-nature connection in design. The presence of plants can reduce stress, improve comfort, enhance mood, and prompt healing.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terrell Hackett

Last Updated:

Views: 5764

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terrell Hackett

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Suite 453 459 Gibson Squares, East Adriane, AK 71925-5692

Phone: +21811810803470

Job: Chief Representative

Hobby: Board games, Rock climbing, Ghost hunting, Origami, Kabaddi, Mushroom hunting, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Terrell Hackett, I am a gleaming, brainy, courageous, helpful, healthy, cooperative, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.