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I had encountered the word ‘biophilia’ and the phrase ‘being biophilic’ a few times in the past but admittedly never really took the time to learn what it meant or how it could be applied.
In our journey to better understand our own abilities to focus and improve productivity, this was one of the topics that I wished to explore first (not that I let my green fingers influence this decision mind) and here’s what we found.
Biophilia is commonly defined as a love for nature, and an appreciation of its beauty.
While most would agree that they appreciate beautiful landscapes, colourful flowers, or a view over a distant horizon, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that our appreciation for nature runs much deeper than that.
Some studies suggest that individuals who feel a stronger connection to nature also experience a more pronounced sense of well-being, as well as certain mental health benefits .
This can sound surprising to some, given that the dominant line of thought in many parts of the world is to see human beings as separate from nature.
Many world religions suppose that there is a hierarchy of creation, in which humans stand above all other creations of god, while enlightenment-era philosophers commonly asserted that human beings were in some way special, and should be seen as distinct from nature .
This line of thinking is still commonly reflected in our vocabulary, when man-made things are referred to ‘unnatural’.
While there is nothing unnatural about anything humans create, many of the shapes and shades used in urban centres are not actually found in nature.
It has been suggested that this may be one reason why a lack of connection of nature is linked with poorer well-being.
In other words, the way in which biophilia manifests in humans, is through our innate appreciation of shapes and colours found in nature – the environment in which human evolution took place .
This understanding has increasingly been incorporated into the way cities, offices, homes, and public spaces are designed.
Biophilic design is therefore a method of incorporating nature into human population centres, in a way in which both sides benefit.
What is biophilic design?
Biophilic design can be implemented on the level of individual buildings, as well as entire cities.
This involves architects incorporating plants, and natural light into their designs for a building, as well as city planners choosing large spaces for wild flowers in order to benefit bees, or providing shrubbery for urban wildlife.
This stems from an understanding that the thriving of wildlife and that of humans is intimately linked  – something readily observed in Singapore’s now famous ‘Garden City’ which features the world’s largest concentration of biodiversity in any urban environment and creates space for thousands of different plant and animal species to thrive .
In return, it provides Singaporeans with a beautiful space many associate with a sense of well-being, while also attracting countless tourists to the city.
Considering that many urban dwellers spend the vast majority of their time indoors (one survey conducted in the US indicated that people spend as much as 87% of their time indoors ), biophilic design can also be aimed at incorporating nature inside of buildings.
One famous example is also located in Singapore – Changi airport, which features a small indoor rainforest, as well as a stylish waterfall in the departure hall.
However, biophilic design extends to much more than simply adding more plants and shrubbery to various urban spaces.
It also includes the consideration of natural light, wind, and the use of materials such a stone and wood to create a sense of ‘naturalness’ in a given space.
What are the benefits of biophilia in design?
Beyond providing us beautiful living and working spaces, biophilic design also provisions measurable health benefits to many people, and can increase productivity in workplaces.
As previously mentioned, studies have found an increased sense of well-being among people who felt connected to nature prompting suggestions that biophilic design could be used to help combat growing rates of mental health problems found among many in the developed world.
Another major topic of research is the effect of biophilic design upon the productivity of workers in office spaces.
A growing number of studies show a strong correlation between the degree of biophilic design in a workplace, and the productivity of its workers .
A comprehensive report on this topic, entitled ‘The Economics of Biophilia’ by E. O. Wilson  outlines the many ways in which it makes sense for employers to invest in biophilic design.
A key argument is that while the maintenance of biophilic design may seem expensive, the vast majority of employers would nonetheless financially benefit from implementing biophilic design elements by receiving higher employee productivity and greater happiness in the workplace.
The touted benefits of biophilic design make it genuinely intriguing
In conclusion, while there is more research to be done on the topic of biophilic design, it is fairly well understood that it has numerous benefits for human beings.
What we are yet to fully understand, is the full extent of these benefits or a detailed understanding of why biophilic design and close proximity is beneficial.
However, since the existence of these benefits is well known, a growing number of employers, cities, and private individuals have begun to incorporate more natural elements into urban spaces.
Thus, cities are expected to become greener as a result of a cultural shift in which growing numbers of citizens are responding to the urge to feel connected to nature and the outdoors.
We can also expect to see an ever increasing amount of biophilic workplaces in the future, as more and more employers become aware of the economic benefits introducing greenery to the workplace can have.
 – Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. A., & Murphy, S. A. (2009). “The nature relatedness scale: Linking individuals’ connection with nature to environmental concern and behaviour”. Environment and Behaviour, 41, 715-740.  – Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The nature connectedness scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515
 – Salingaros, Nikos, and Kenneth Masden. “Neuroscience, the Natural Environment, and Building Design.” In Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life , edited by Stephen R. Kellert, Judith Heerwagen and Martin Mador. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
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