Biophilia, the meaning of a word that everyone utters and that few really know

There biofilt design according to Stephen R. Kellert, it translates into a table of six elements, rejected in more than seventy attributes to be applied to the built environment. They include the use of natural materials, green facades, sunlight, botanical or spiral motifs, biomorphy and geomorphology, fractals, the patina of time, historical, geographical and cultural connection with the place where a building stands, characteristics of the landscape to define its shape.

Kellert (1943-2016), Professor of Social Ecology at Yale, helped provide a design definition biophiles. That it is the psychological tendency to be attracted to all this is alive and vital: a concept introduced by Erich Fromm in the 60s revived by Edward O. Wilson (1929-2021) in his book Biophilia from 1984: “We are human beings largely because of the special way we associate with other organisms. It is the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted.”. Wilson and Kellert then took care of the collection together Biophilia hypothesis.

According to this theory, humans have an affinity, even emotional, inherent in nature, developed during evolution. Subsequent studies have revealed that this tendency remains an important part of men’s health. Top, Peppermint Gardens by Joe Mortell

A technical approach

“Biofilt design deliberately reproduces essential elements at the evolutionary level of the relationship between man and nature to promote our well-being and productivity. If biophilia is congenital, the approach is very technical: is based on a thorough consideration of the system you live in. Biophile sites could not be designed elsewhere ». To speak is Rita Thrombinenvironmental psychologist, on the jury for the Stephen R. Kellert (always him) Biophilic Design Award promoted by the International Living Future Institute, which last year went to the project of Studio Heatherwick Maggie’s Leeds.

“It does not just mean adding plants, on the contrary. Let us think of our landscapes: hilly, mountainous, maritime. In Italy, the level of biodiversity is enormous. We have to work with views, perspectives, materials, smells, aromas, sounds. In a multisensory perspective that allows us to connect with nature. Sure, filling a place with plants can create an immediate effect. But they require special daily attention, which not everyone may be inclined to do. And on a scientific level, there is no correlation between the number of plants and restorative recovery of mental energy, ”he continues.



For the environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, Trombin was in charge of the publication Working with fractals: i fractals they are ubiquitous in nature, and in biophilic design they have a positive impact on human perception, health, cognitive performance, emotions and stress. That’s why the American company Mohawk has launched the Relaxing Floors collection: a modular system of blanket which reproduces fractal patterns in nature. According to Thrombin, «based on scientific evidence, they reduce it stress 60% in seconds “.

“Biophile design options include plants, but they go far beyond: nature-based patterns and textures, play of light and shadow, designs for all five senses. Working with a few elements in a thoughtful way can bring a rich biophile experience to a space, ”he confirms Erin Rovaloexpert in biomimicry at the Living Future Institute, who emphasizes: “The biofilt design was voted by Pinterest as one of the hottest trends for 2022. On the one hand, it is a very old way of designing: it is intuitive and it is adapted to pre-industrial design concepts. On the other hand, it is an emerging field in terms of research. From 2018 (the year of the release of Guide to biofil design the institute, ed.) several important documents have been published that help us understand biofilt design and climate change, the effects on health and well-being, the effects in schools.

Author biophile interiors

Catherine Ryan Balagtasdirector of projects at Terrapin, points to among the best examples of biophile interior also projects that do not include plants like the Aesop store in San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome, curated by Studio Guadagnino, with marble reminiscent of the nearby basilica and the ceiling inspired by the ancient thatched roofs of Agro Pontino. Or thehotel Bühelwirt in San Giacomo in Valle Aurina (Bolzano) by Pedevilla Architects, who use local materials and where nature is outside. Like the private residence Desert rainin Bend, Oregon (USA), among the case studies selected by the Future Living Institute.

Another trait that is obviously inspired by biophile principles is Greenthe house of Francesco Mutti designed by Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota outside Parma, built around a 60-year-old ficus astralis 10 meters high.

That Eden Palace in Singapore, at the Heatherwick studio, it is instead a twenty-storey residential tower, where each apartment has a garden, on the balcony, and instead of air conditioning, cross ventilation.

Plants are just the beginning

Using the most common houseplants such as ficus, monstera deliciosa, chlorophytum comosum, epipremnum aureum, seems like the simplest way to transform an interior. The vegetable walls, born from the intuition of the French biologist Patrick Blanc thirty years ago they represent a more extreme and expensive solution in terms of maintenance. “Demand is also growing among private individuals, driven by the pandemic,” assures Biotecture, a UK company that launched PlantBox, a system with living wall for small commercial and residential projects that do not require complicated irrigation.

But as mentioned, plants are only the beginning. For a more complete briefing, among the most recent publications of the study of Oliver Heathspecializing in biofilt design, is the book Design a healthy hometo transform your home using natural textures for acoustics.

“I recommend a interdisciplinary approachwith the designer, who collaborates with an environmental psychologist or an expert in biophilia “, suggests Rita Trombin, who remembers how to have at least twenty minutes a day to feel good contact with nature: “The study showed us that those who lived during the shutdown in an environment with few green elements, natural light and air quality had twice the risk of depression.”


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