Biophilic Design and Feng Shui Have a Similar Focus


Recently, I was introduced to biophilic design through an article that came to me via email. Having never heard of biophilic design, I decided to dig into it. Much to my delight, the concepts are very similar to feng shui, which has been around for thousands of years. Both fields are about noticing patterns and replicating nature to bring harmony and well-being.

Emerging from the fields of biology and psychology, biophilia is a term coined by the social psychologist Eric Fromm in 1964. Twenty years later, it was further popularized by Edward Wilson with linkages to neuroscience, endocrinology, architecture and more. Through the definition of 14 patterns, biophilic design emphasizes the need to connect humans to nature in our built environment. This is particularly important in our age of technology, where it’s very easy to be disconnected and physically isolated.

Similar to feng shui, biophilic design emphasizes the benefits of living and working in buildings that support your health, learning, productivity, creativity, community and overall well-being.

The theory is that humans are predisposed to nature and natural systems. We need a connection to nature not only to survive, but to thrive. Studies show that people heal faster in environments that include natural light, natural fabrics, beautiful colors, fresh plants (includes flowers and trees), curves, fresh air, and a feeling of safety and security, among other features. Students learn more effectively and workers are more productive in environments with similar attributes. People also experience less stress in such environments and have a higher tendency to connect with others, building community.

The 14 biophilic patterns are:

  1. Visual connection with nature … being able to see nature.
  2. Non-visual connection with nature … through sound, texture, taste and smell.
  3. Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli … such as art, air flow, things to touch, taste or smell.
  4. Thermal airflow variability … changes in airflow and temperatures that mimic nature.
  5. Presence of water… through sight, hearing, or touch.
  6. Dynamic and diffused light … light and shadows that change with time of day or seasons.
  7. Connection to natural systems … incorporating natural patterns and seasonality.
  8. Biomorphic forms and patterns … through spirals, the Golden Mean, Fibonacci series.
  9. Material connection with nature … using natural colors and objects, ecological focus.
  10. Complexity and order … as found in nature through symmetry, fractals, spatial patterns.
  11. Prospect … an unimpeded, long distance view that feels open, free, safe and controlled.
  12. Refuge … creating a safe, space of one’s own. A personal retreat. Nooks and crannies.
  13. Mystery … spaces that draw you in so that you want to learn more. Delightful surprises.
  14. Risk and peril … an identifiable threat with a safe solution. Tests limits of danger. I recently experienced this while hiking and mountain climbing, In your home, you can introduce this concept through art and more. 

The 14 patterns provide an excellent framework to evaluate and strengthen an environment, based on the needs and intention of the people living and working there.

Feng shui also takes you a bit deeper by helping you to understand how the history of a space is reflected in the events that occur there, through the landform, building shape and a myriad of design details. Once you understand what is happening, you can make changes to bring it into balance with nature.

Here are some links to explore, if you’d like to delve deeper into biophilic design: 

A nice apartment guide 

A bit about the history

Some buildings to explore

A movie

My thanks to Elsie Weisskoff for introducing me to this concept!