American sustainability consulting and strategic planning firm Terrapin Bright Green has released a white paper that promises to guide building designers towards more environmentally connected outcomes.

14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment consolidates decades of research and discoveries that highlight a human being’s innate need to connect with the natural environment.

The Terrapin document goes further than just abstract observations however, and offers 14 building design interventions that can be incorporated to facilitate this human connection to nature through built form.

William Browning, Terrapin partner and co-author of 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, believes that by incorporating such design interventions, productivity gains will be seen in office buildings and healing rates will be improved in healthcare settings.

“The positive outcome of experiences enabled by biophilic design can be seen in stress reduction, improved cognitive function and enhanced creativity,” he said.

“In healthcare settings, there are a number of studies that indicate improved healing rates and better outcomes.”


The New York Skyline. Image: Iwan Baan.

In an interview with Architecture & Design Browning explained that the many ways that humans can be positively reconnected with nature can be grouped in three main categories:

  1. Nature in the Space, which is about direct experiences of biotic and abiotic components of nature;
  2. Natural Analogues, which is about experiences of abstractions of nature and natural systems;
  3. Nature of the Space, which is about characteristics of spatial conditions found in preferred human habitats.

Within the three categories are a total of 14 patterns that describe design interventions that enable the human connection to nature.

Nature in the Space

  1. Visual Connection to Nature
  2. Non-Visual Connection to Nature
  3. Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
  4. Thermal & Airflow Variability
  5. Presence of Water
  6. Dynamic & Diffuse Light
  7. Connection to Natural Systems

Natural Analogues

  1. Biomorphic Forms & Patterns
  2. Material Connection to Nature
  3. Complexity & Order

Nature of the Space

  1. Prospect
  2. Refuge
  3. Mystery
  4. Risk/Peril


Following a recent article titled Why biophilic architecture works: five reasons and case studies, response from our readers was mixed. Some pointed out that harnessing nature in design is not a new concept:

“This is not about biophilia, or ‘biophilic architecture’; whatever that is,” said one reader.
“This is what architects and designers have done for thousands of years, for example the Roman villas.”

Others pointed out examples of other centuries’ old bioclimatic architecture and more recent works from the past decades such as the 1967 Ford Foundation Building atrium (Top right) by Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo & Associates. (Image: Places Journal)

But when quizzed on the difference between these projects and biophilic design, Browning pointed out that there is a distinction between bioclimatic and biomimetic design versus biophilic architecture.

“Bioclimatic design responds to the specific climatic and weather patterns of a site and biomimetic design uses nature as source of inspiration for design,” he explained.

“Biophilia is the innate human need to connect with nature, with the result being improvements in our health and wellbeing.  Biophilic design is focused on the enabling a human connection to nature in the built environment.”

He did admit though that while the studies on biophilic design are relatively new, the practice is not.

“Many components of biophilic design have been used intuitively and intentionally throughout the history of human construction. 

“The landscape management in cultures worldwide frequently resulted in the creation and maintenance of savannah habitats, a genetic memory of our place of origin on the savannahs of Africa. 

“The earliest known stone structures are decorated with carvings of animals.  And, particularly in religious structures we recreate spatial experiences that occur in important natural habitats.”

Browning sees biophilic design as complementary to green building efforts and believes that although it is a young field of inquiry, the results from studies speak for themselves.

“Most green building efforts focus on important concerns related to energy, water, materials and indoor-environmental quality. Biophilic design takes the next step to address the wellbeing of the occupants.”