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Biophilic design: nature in the space

in biophilic design

The first category of biophilic design patterns – nature in the space – refers to the presence of real natural elements in a designed space. This includes natural light and ventilation, outdoor views, greenery, water, and more.

Let’s explore…

1. visual connection with nature

View of natural elements from within a space.

From a design perspective, visual connection with nature can be increased through big windows and fully glazed walls that highlight the view. Adding greenery indoors is another strategy, that goes beyond placing a few potted plants here and there. In the scope of biophilic design, greenery needs to be a cohesive element in the space and include diverse and appropriately selected plant species.

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Full-height window in a minimalist living room.
Credit: Kråkvik & D’Orazio – Ph: Jonas Bjerre Poulsen
Garden wall design feature in a minimalist dining area.
Credit: Muuto

2. non-visual connection with nature

Interactions with nature through other senses: sound, touch, smell and taste.

This pattern highlights the importance of other senses (besides sight), which are too often undervalued in the design of interiors.
What sounds characterize the space? Does it have an intentional smell? These are questions we often cannot clearly answer. Yet taking all the senses into account in the design would make for a much richer experience of the space.

Biophilic design strategies that incorporate all 5 senses include natural sounds and scents, a variety of touchable natural materials, natural ventilation, and seamless connections between indoor and outdoor spaces.

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Stone bathroom sink on a wood vanity, with highly tactile surfaces.
Credit: Obumex

3. non-rhythmic sensory stimuli

Unpredictable and non-repetitive movements recalling those happening in nature (birds chirping, leaves moving in a breeze…).

Unpredictable and non-repetitive movements are part of every natural environment: plants attract a variety of birds, insects and butterflies while grass and branches swing casually in the wind.
Such movements subtly draw the eye and are highly restorative for the mind, especially thanks to their irregular nature.

Applying this biophilic pattern by introducing non-repetitive and unexpected movements is a way to make the space more interesting, stimulating and always slightly different.

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Kitchen with full-height windows and trees outdoors.
Credit: Espresso Design

4. thermal and airflow variability

Variability in air temperature and flow, changes in relative humidity and varying surface temperatures.

Temperature and airflow variations make an indoor space invigorating and alive, like a natural outdoor environment would be.

Incorporating this pattern calls for prioritizing natural ventilation and light, letting the outdoor breeze come in while creating an alternation of sunny and shaded spots. Another way is through materials, as mixing warm and cold materials will introduce interesting temperature variability among the surfaces in the space.

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Minimalist kitchen with wood cabinets and stone countertops.
Credit: Studio Esteta

5. presence of water

Use of water and water-mimicking solutions as design features

Water is a fascinating and deeply restorative biophilic element.

Water has the potential to engage different senses simultaneously: moving water (like a waterfall or fountain) can likely be seen, heard and touched. Worth noting, it doesn’t take a huge amount of it to achieve a multi-sensory stimulation, which makes the use of water features effective even in smaller spaces.

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Outdoor fountain immersed in plants.
Credit: MW Works – Ph: Jeremy Bittermann

6. dynamic and diffuse light

Varying lighting intensities and light changes over time evoking the natural cycle of day and night.

In indoor spaces, lighting is usually way more uniform than in nature. A more dynamic lighting setup can be achieved through layered lighting, with a mix of general ambient lighting, task lighting for specific activities, and some accents.

But what’s mostly restorative is the use of artificial lighting to recall the natural variability of sunlight. This takes the name of Human Centric Lighting and has been the focus of the latest innovations in lighting design.

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Minimalist kitchen design with lit shelves.
Credit: Obumex
Rock lights.
Credit: André Cazenave - Atelier A

7. connection with natural systems

Awareness of seasonal and temporal changes stimulated by design solutions.

Spending long hours indoors doesn’t mean becoming detached from what happens outdoors; at least it shouldn’t.

The main way to connect interiors with natural systems is through windows and views. The possibility to see outdoors makes the alternation of day and night visible, it shows changing weather conditions, and makes the passing of seasons evident. Ultimately, it creates a stronger connection with nature.

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Bedroom with winter outside view.
Credit: Bourgeois Lechasseur Architects

Biophilic design resources by anooi:
A Biophilic YearApplying Biophilic DesignVisual Library of Biophilic Design