What Is Biophilic Design? The Low-Effort, Low-Cost Biophilic Design Guide

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Biophilic design is a design approach that encourages a relationship between people and nature. This form of design introduces natural elements into architecture and landscaping. A biophilic design includes principles of life and nature in living spaces. The reason? Nature is known to calm and heal. 

Today, we’re able to see an increasing number of establishments with biophilic designs and it is easier to incorporate nature in design.

Here are some biophilic design ideas to try out.

Biophilic Design Ideas

1) Lighting 


Image Source: solii.ca

The intensity of lighting decides the mood of a space. Bright white light is typically chosen for workspaces. This helps improve mood and productivity. To create a more relaxed feel, cafes and restaurants play around with lighting to establish the mood. 

A designer can also experiment with shadows and casts to mimic a natural location. Rainforest-themed restaurants typically have a foliage cover and have their lighting fixtures over the foliage. This will cast shadows on the diners mimicking a real forest setting and creating a dramatic effect. 

Adjust light and shadow intensities achieve different themes for different settings. For instance, in the image below, the restaurant uses blue and white light to give off an underwater feeling. 


Image Source: lovefood.com

Compared to the image above, the hotel below uses a lot of natural lighting to make the forest visible and allow the greenery to wash in. This form of lighting is natural as opposed to the artificial lighting in the image above.


Image Source: scenichotelgroup.co.nz

2) Wallpapers


Image Source: wallmur.com

Texture isn’t just about what you can feel with your hands. Visual texture is a large element of biophilic designs, and wallpapering surfaces is a very cheap way to do this. 

Beyond the wall, you can apply wallpaper with nature-centric patterns on desks and tables. Odd shapes, like a surfboard in a beach-themed restaurant, can also be wallpapered. 

This type of design is not very popular, but some enjoy it. 

You should also apply the color theory and the ecological valence theory to this design element. Co-working spaces often have colorful chairs to liven up the space. This, when done per the color theory, can improve mood. 

Biophilic design is more than just including one or two plants in a space. But it can also be just that. You can decide the caliber to which you want a biophilic interior based on your budget.

3) Water Features

Water has the most calming effect, and we can not imagine nature without thinking of waterfalls, rivers, and large water bodies. The one common feature of all-natural elements in the most expensive vacation destinations is a water feature.

Water Features

Image Source: mymove.com

One of the best ways to incorporate water in your interior design is the use of fountains. Fountains are beautiful to look at. The sight of water flowing has a calming effect. Fish ponds and aquariums are another way to use water in interior design. Aquariums mimic the bottom of the ocean and are a marvel to behold.

The sound of water features and other nature sounds can sometimes be enough. Using rain sounds makes the best sleep, yet no physical drop of water is involved. Using Waterfalls and ocean wave sounds can work instead of using real water.

4) Earth Tones

Earth Tones

Image Source: caroleleeinteriors.com

Using earth tones as part of a design helps the room blend in with the natural environment outside. Most natural features have neutral colors, also known as earth tones which, when emulated in design, have a similar effect as being out in nature.

Choosing colors when designing interior spaces directly determines the mood and experience within the space, and earth tones are a priority when going for a calm effect.

5) Artificial Plants: The Low-Effort Staple

Besides the plants, a biophilic design also emphasizes natural light and airiness. Other touches of nature, like textures, natural colors, and even sound could be incorporated into your design. 

But the key to getting your design right is doing it in moderation. And to keep your physical efforts minimal, artificial plants are the way to go. 

These life-like alternatives hold the same benefits as having real plants in your design. But the time for upkeep is drastically cut short. You won’t have to deal with watering, fertilizing, and pruning your plant. 

Artificial Plant Fixtures That Will Elevate Your Biophilic Design

i) Plant Wall 

Plant walls are a functional element to add to large spaces. If you have an open floor plan, then one way to demarcate areas within the space is with a plant wall. 

A faux bamboo plant wall achieves this purpose effortlessly. The bamboo will not completely block out light or sound. But it’s a good way to introduce privacy. 

A bamboo fence fixture works well in restaurants and office spaces. 

Plant wall

Image source: lovehappensmag.com

You can interpose the bamboo trees with another variety to get textural variation. This will bring more variation to the design. 

ii) Suspended Plants 

You can suspend plants from the ceiling to give an illusion of a canopy when viewed from below. Ivy and vines work the best for this purpose. If you’re using artificial plants, you won’t have to worry about water dripping onto your equipment when you’re watering it.  

Suspended Plants

Image source: sculptform.com

Since most planters are see-through, you can see both the brown of the soil and the green of the plants. This will give you a more accurate feel of nature. 

iii) Biophilic Seating 

Tree stumps are the new chairs in most spaces like restaurants and offices. 

If you’re designing a cafe or a park, then consider installing fake tree stumps for seating. The realistic stumps are ideal for adding texture to the space. 

Tree stumps bring variety to your floor plan. Furthermore, large tree stumps can stand in for tables which you can include in workspaces.

Biophilic Seating

Image source: pinterest.com

Since this implementation will combine function with decoration, it’s a great way to cut design costs. 

iv) Textured Surfaces

Texture is a very important element of biophilic design. The space’s inhabitants should be able to feel the plants either physically or visually. Grass flooring is a great and popular choice for many designers working on a biophilic design. 

The artificial grass works for other surfaces like walls, furniture, play accessories like swings and more.  

Image source: alvarezdiazvillalon.com

Macrame and woven basket textures are other textured surfaces that can bring variation to your design. You can pick a lot of inspiration by looking at the natural environment around you. There are textured surfaces like tree-barks, rock surfaces, leaves, pebbles and more.

6) Non-Visual Stimuli

Non-Visual Stimuli

Image Source: housing.com

Nature isn’t only about what you can see. The things you can smell and hear have a massive role in imbibing the calming aura that biophilia promises. 

The cheapest way to include this in your design is with scent diffusers. Depending on the size of your space, you may need multiple diffusers to make a dent. 

Lavender and rosemary are some of the most calming scents. Use the scents alternatively. Or else, your brain will get accustomed to the smell, and it’ll no longer have the same effect. 

Auditory stimulus is also another element you can include in your design. One of the most popular sound elements is flowing water. Cafes, malls, and colleges often include water fountains in their landscaping design

In a workspace which is likely to have less ambient noise, fixtures like chimes will have a great effect.

7) Organic Shapes

Organic Shapes

Image Source: italianbark.com

Our brains are evolved to see shapes, which is how we recognize most things. For this reason, you can recognize a familiar face using only the silhouette. Organic shapes have smoother curves and asymmetric shapes, as found in nature.

Using organic shapes in design today is important in today’s modern society, with many concrete jungles filled almost entirely with geometric shapes. Organic shapes can work on furniture, counters, centrepieces, tables, and more.

8) Green Spaces

Green Spaces

Image Source: disd.edu

Using green is the closest way to emulate natural environments. Some people go as far as painting leaves and flowers on walls, which is successful in making spaces feel natural. Painting green roofs and walls is a biophilic design strategy.

Green colors can work well for exterior spaces, including the outdoor patio, the wall, steps, and more. Using color is not restricted to a particular space.

9) Varying Heights

The beauty of nature is how asymmetrical the environmental features are. Natural geometries, as found in nature, have a sense of disorder that is aesthetically pleasing.

Benefits of Biophilic Design

Benefits of Biophilic Design

Image Source: archdaily.com

a) Improved Creativity

Being in nature is one of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing. Incorporating biophilic design has similar direct and indirect experiences one would have out in nature. Human-nature connection is a great motivator as it offers the brain novelty, which is great for generating ideas.

b) Stress Relieving

The best stress relievers can be found in the natural world. The natural landscape has a way of making our mental health improve by calming us through the shapes we see and the sounds we hear. When incorporated into the architecture, biophilic design is a great approach to creating office and living spaces.

When more natural light is let into a room and natural landscapes inspire design, we end up with spaces that have tremendous health benefits.

c) Environmentally Friendly

The use of natural materials and natural patterns makes buildings green by cooling down the buildings and reducing the number of artificial forms of energy used in a setting. For instance, natural lighting reduces the need to install lights that need to use electricity. Similarly, having sufficient ventilation solves the need to have many air conditioners in a building, especially during summer.

d) Improved Performance in the Workplace

For most people, the workplace can be boring and can feel like a trap. However, the biophilic design focuses on making spaces more relaxing, which leads to better concentration hence better performance. People who incorporate biophilic design in their spaces stand a better chance of having happier employees than people who do not.

e) Improved Aesthetics

In architectural design, the interior space gets a lot of attention, and biophilic design is one way to appreciate interior spaces more. Furthermore, the nature sounds, lush appearances, and other forms of biophilic design in indoor spaces improve human health. Good aesthetics in an interior space is good for the mind.

Challenges of Biophilic Design

i) Costly

In some instances, incorporating natural systems into a design can be a costly affair. For instance, installing fountains and water ponds may require an extra budget for maintenance. Luckily, there are myriads of indoor design and landscaping ideas that one can incorporate into designing their space without having to break the bank.

ii) Execution Challenge

If a building was not designed with biophilic design in mind, it might be a bit challenging to incorporate one later. Making biophilic design sustainable may require a level of dedication that other forms of design do not require.

Frequently Asked Questions About Biophilic Design

Frequently Asked Questions About Biophilic Design

Image Source: greencities.com

1) What is biophilic design?

Biophilic design is a form of architectural design that improves the human connection to the natural environment. Biophilic design incorporates natural elements into the built environment. The biophilic design also has repeated and sustained engagement with the users, making it a unique approach to architectural design.

2) What are the main elements of biophilic design?

The elements of biophilic design include:

  • Natural shapes
  • Natural ventilation
  • Use of natural lighting
  • Use of natural colors such as green walls
  • Positive and sustained interactions with the environment
  • Use of patterns and natural forms
  • Use of natural material from nature. The materials can be living or non-living.
  • A biophilic space is likely to be large

3) What are biophilic design examples?

A lot of big and small corporations have adopted biophilic design. Furthermore, the design has made it into spaces like the home as well. Here are some notable examples of biophilic architecture.

a) The Apple Park

The Apple Park

Image Source: fosterandpartners.com

Apple Park has a lot of natural lighting and a ring design with a plantation right at the center of the building.

b) Changi Airport

Changi Airport

Image Source: planetofhotels.com

The Changi airport looks like a scene from another world.

c) Sanko Headquarters

Sanko Headquarters

Image Source: rmjm.com

The Sanko Hq building incorporates environmental science into its design.

4) What are the benefits of biophilic design?

The advantages of biophilic design include;

  • Sustainable energy solutions
  • Better work and living spaces
  • Environmentally friendly approach

Final Thoughts on Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is akin to injecting life into urban environments to enhance well being and peace of mind of those experiencing those spaces. Biophilic principles are all geared towards making the indoor and outdoor spaces have an indirect and direct experience similar to one you would get in nature.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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