Biophilic design: nature to make spaces more livable


If there is something we have done during these years of confinement, quarantine and recommendations to spend more time at home, it has been to fill our homes with plants and flowers. Maybe it’s because seeing them made us happy, maybe because the plants help us relax or maybe because it was a patch when we spent less time outside our homes. Be that as it may, these years plants have become something increasingly important in our daily lives, so it is not surprising that biophilic design has become one of the great trends of the moment at the same time.

Biophilic design is by no means new. Its origins date back to the 1980s and the work of biologist Edward O. Wilson. As María Inés Pernas Alonso, architect and professor at the Higher Technical School of Architecture of the University of A Coruña, explains on the other end of the phone, at that time it began to be seen that offices as cubicles without natural light had become depressing environments for your workers.

In the last decade, as an article by FastCompany explained a few years ago, the idea of ​​incorporating nature into workspaces has become something recurrent in the offices of startups and technology companies. If you were a cool company –or aspired to be– your headquarters would be full of plants and natural claims.

Norwegian research concluded that the presence of plants increases productivity and reduces mental fatigue, because it helps us focus. In fact, the presence of plants is associated with a greater ability to concentrate, but also with a reduction in stress. By impacting, they could even impact our present and future mental health. A 2019 Danish study ensures that the mental health of those children who have been exposed to green elements is better over the years than that of those who have not.

However, biophilic design is now experiencing a boom moment. So to speak, it has gone mainstream. In its analysis of the big trends that will be everywhere this year, Pinterest includes biophilic design. “From the hand of the millennials, design solutions are coming that revolve around nature to strengthen ties with it and improve their own well-being,” he summarizes.

Photo: Kayleigh Harrington (Unsplash)

Searches for terms such as biophilic architecture, biophilic office or room design, or floral ceiling have exploded on the social network, that showcase of cute things and creative designs to be desired. Everyone wants to put plants – or more plants – in their house.

Thus, vertical gardens or hanging plants have been gaining weight in the lists of decoration recommendations, while looking for ways to connect more with nature. And, after all, floral walls and ceilings are becoming more and more common. If some other bar or restaurant with modern pretensions has opened in your neighborhood, it is most likely that they have decorated it using one of these elements.


But is biophilic design simply putting up a couple of plants or creating a vertical garden on a wall to create a green illusion? Not really. Biophilic design is much more complex and should be understood not as a patch that includes green elements in a couple of corners of spaces, but rather as a philosophy. What biophilic design seeks is to bring nature closer to people, not simply fill spaces with plants.

As María Inés Pernas explains, the philosophy behind the design is “a return to reconnecting with nature”, but the approach of what must be done to achieve this reconnection depends on the space. If you live by the sea, explains the teacher, “you are already connected to nature”: if you look up, you will see the ocean. It would not make sense to fill everything with plants and close the contact with the sea.

Biophilic design implies, therefore, opening spaces to natural light, making the exterior visible or, of course, establishing a deeper relationship with nature. In the end, all this design should aim for is to be “something that generates sensory stimuli.” The spaces must allow us to live experiences, creating responses and connecting with our biorhythm.

Photo: Toa Heftiba (Unsplash)

For this reason, explains María Inés Pernas, biophilic design is so important in spaces such as hospitals, where it helps to ensure that the place is not “aggressive” for its patients. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in a hospital knows that they tend to become almost non-places, where it is difficult to follow the passage of time and that they end up exhausting those who are forced to stay there for weeks.


Putting a lot of trees and filling every possible space with plants and flowers is therefore only part of what a biophilic design can be. Pernas is the author of a guide, Public places to stay with a biophilic character, in which she addresses what playgrounds could be like from a biophilic perspective.

The play areas should take into account the entire population that passes through (the child population, yes, but also their grandparents), the changes in needs according to the weather (having spaces to shelter from the rain or the sun, for example ) or accessibility (because not everyone can move in the same way) to create a space that is safe and accessible, that works for all its users. All of this is also biophilic design, beyond adding plants and trees.

“It is a very interdisciplinary science,” insists María Inés Pernas, pointing out the importance of working on the grill from various approaches, from architecture to decoration, going through all those areas necessary to develop how spaces should be. And, above all, you should not use a kind of biophilic design template that is valid for everything: each place and each case needs a custom design.

What is clear is that biophilic design could make cities much more livable and much less, so to speak, sufferable.