Why People are Flocking to Biophilic Design

Biophilic Design
Gardens By The Bay, Singapore

Biophilic design is the concept of incorporating nature with our built environment for the well-being of society.

It is one of the hottest design trends presently, with people being excited to live and work in these spaces, while consultants are given an opportunity to integrate their creativity and passion with nature. At the same time, there is a significant amount of misinformation floating around about the term. I’d like to help provide some clarity: what “biophilic design” is (and isn’t), its roots as well as the reasons why its popularity has surged in recent years.

Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson came up with the term “biophilia” in 1984 to denote the natural attraction we humans have to nature, with biophilic elements including vegetation, flowing water, and sunlight. While designs set in locations already surrounded by natural living systems are often already biophilic by immersion, the architectural challenge is to incorporate biophilic designs in urban settings such as modern cities, which are usually predominantly mechanised.

Environment with biophilic elements appear to provide psychosomatic benefits for inhabitants, and there are some studies to back this up. In one study, patients situated in hospital rooms that received natural sunlight in the morning took 23% less pain medication than patients not situated in such rooms. Biophilic design brings about a state of calm and balance by stimulating the body’s parasympathetic system. The natural ecosystems integrated into biophilic designs often provide a host of other benefits, such as improving the quality of air, allowing natural light, and providing natural temperature regulation. In addition, biophilic design is said to improve work productivity, elevate motivation, and lower absenteeism in office workers. It can also bring about positive effects on children’s health, specifically kids suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, and stress.

Biophilic design is also often confused with “green” or “eco-conscious” design. A building wrapped with solar panels can be green in terms of energy regeneration. A zero-energy closed-waste-system lifted on stilts above pristine wetlands can demonstrate eco-conscious design. However, both buildings might not be biophilic in design if occupants do not, by the quality and use of the spaces, or design patterns, feel a sense of affinity to the living things that surround them. We’ve also seen cases of parties in a development “value engineering” inauthentic biophilic features without knowing the negative impact they can bring about. One example is the inclusion of often hidden and mechanically ventilated toilets within condominium units. These are a result of poor policy and the perceived economic benefits of efficient floor plates.

Singapore has well-established its City in a Garden identity, with many of its instantly recognisable buildings incorporating biophilic design. Such landmarks include Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, one of the first buildings in Singapore to adopt its use. Other iconic projects include Changi Airport; Gardens By The Bay; National Gallery Singapore; and The Hive@Nanyang Technological University. Other healthcare facilities like Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, and Ang Mo Kio Nursing Home under Ren Ci, are world-class examples where biophilia is part of the integrated design towards salutogenic healing. We are proud to have played a part in the creation of these buildings, which have set new benchmarks in design and are always looking forward to the next biophilic design challenge.

By Kuan Chee Yung, Senior Vice President, Architecture of CPG Consultants