Health and Architecture in the Home and Office: Biophilic Design

The term ‘biophilia’ refers to humans’ affinity for the natural world, and was popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson’s 1984 book of the same name. Per a 1997 article by Peter Kahn in Developmental Review, researchers have since proposed a genetic basis for this phenomenon, possibly linked to the developmental history of humans.

Although contemporary scientific literature lacks definitive ‘proof’ of biophilia, Howard Frumkin cites numerous medical studies in his 2001 ‘Beyond toxicity’ article that examine humans’ relationship to animals and plants, as well as their responses to views of landscape and wilderness immersion. The collective findings of these studies strongly suggest biophilic elements improve the health and wellbeing of humans both indoors and out.

Improved mental wellbeing from biophilic design can boost cognitive performance. A 2018 CBRE ‘healthy office’ study showed that, when exposed to a biophilic mural as well as plants scattered around the office, 76% of participants felt more energised, 78% felt happier and 65% felt healthier. Researchers noted a 10% improvement in the participants’ cognitive performance.

Consistent proximity to natural elements like greenery and sunlight further bolsters comfort and performance in the workplace. Per Interface’s 2015 ‘Human Spaces’ report, workers in such environments reported themselves 6% more productive, 15% more creative and enjoying a 15% higher level of well-being than those in settings devoid of natural elements.

Although biophilic spaces evidently produce economic gains in the short and long term, the Human Spaces report found one quite surprising result: 58% of participants reported their office had no live plants while 53% reported their office had no natural light.

In addition to productivity, the presence of plants in the workplace can also effect happiness. The Human Spaces report indicates that, in the Netherlands, workers are happiest when in close proximity to natural light, green spaces and views of trees.

Residential and office communities can also benefit from biophilic spaces near their homes and offices as well as within them. A shared allotment can act as a stress reliever for residents whilst providing them a social space. A 2016 study by the UK Green Buildings Council suggests that when children get involved with growing sustainable fruit and vegetables, not only do they immediately benefit from their healthy diet but they are also more likely to continue to eat well in the future. A similar principle may apply for office workers: Kono Designs’ 2010 urban farm for the Pasona Group’s Tokyo headquarters combines community agriculture with biophilic design. Here, workers can choose to grow their own food in the office, which is then used in the canteen to prepare lunch.

Exterior view of the Pasona Group headquarters in Tokyo, featuring a green facade. Photo courtesy of 螺钉 via Wikimedia Commons

Interior view of the Pasona Group headquarters in Tokyo, featuring an indoor garden. Photo courtesy of Hélène Veilleux via Flickr

Key points for architects and designers:






UNStudio’s Terminal 2 Landmark Space in Incheon International Airport comprises two food and beverage pavilions, characterised by their contrast in materiality and atmosphere against the rest of the airport’s clean, white interior. Lush plants provide a relaxing micro-climate and escape from the airport’s busy, stressful environment. The calming potential of plants can be especially beneficial to people with anxiety traveling through an airport.

© Rohspace

UNStudio Team: Luke Parkhurst, Filippo Lodi, Bart Chompff, Marisa Cortright