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5 Ideas for Biophilic Design: Bringing Nature into the Home

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Feb 18, 2020

Taking a weekend walk through the woods after a stressful week of work is a great way to decompress, relax, and unwind. During 2018, almost 320 million people visited one of America's National Parks, which goes to show that we are drawn to the natural world. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average American spends about 90% of their time indoors. This large amount of time spent inside our homes, schools, and offices not only raises concerns about the quality of the air that we breathe but also has ramifications for our mental health. Biophilic architectural design seeks to reconcile our innate need for connection with nature by bringing nature into their homes as part of a holistic and healthful biophilic design.

Swing over waterfall

The Roots of Our Connection to the Natural World 

In 1984, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote a book called Biophilia. As a biologist, Wilson theorized that our human attraction to the natural world was not merely coincidental, but instead was genetically predetermined through evolution. Wilson believed that our mutual love for flowers was not only because they were pretty and smelled nice. Instead, our human ancestors learned to associate flowers with the possibility that fruit might potentially soon be arriving on the branches of some wild bush.

This innate connection to the natural world is not only practical. It signals that, throughout human history, our existence depended on understanding the natural world and our place in it. Today, our modern-day, techno-industrial civilization has separated us from the roots of this innate connectedness that allowed our species to survive and flourish. Most people associate sources of food with grocery stores and restaurants, instead of with flowering, wild trees. 

This sense of disconnect and alienation from the natural world has brought with it several adverse mental and physical health issues. Many people today talk about a "nature deficit disorder" that is negatively affecting both children and adults. Medical professionals widely agree that spending time outdoors and in the natural world brings several health benefits. These include reducing attention deficit symptoms in children and improving our ability to cope with stress and adversity.

How to Incorporate Biophilic Design Into Your Home

Many families do not have regular access to parks or other wild and natural areas due to poor urban planning and the increasing scope of technology over our lives. Small, urban, grassed areas do not have the same benefit as the unspoiled wilderness that previous generations might have enjoyed as children.

Fortunately, the suggestions listed below for incorporating biophilic design can allow homeowners in virtually any setting to bring nature into their homes.

garden walkway view

Create an Outdoor Living Space 

One of the central tenets of biophilic architectural design is that we need to blur the boundary lines that usually separate the interior and exterior areas of our home. Even in dense urban settings, an outdoor patio can encourage us to get outside, breathe unconditioned air, and feel the wind on our back. Even if there isn't a tree within a kilometer of your home, plants can be used in outdoor living spaces to create a natural oasis of biodiversity. Outdoor patios, decks, and exterior dining rooms encourage us to pull away from the screens that increasingly dominate our lives and to instead look into the sky to enjoy a sunset or to search for a shooting star. For homeowners who live in areas with long, cold winters, this Rise article gives some ideas for how to incorporate outdoor winter living spaces around your home.

Plants Thumbs Up

Plants, Plants, and More Plants 

Plants make up about 80 percent of the total biomass of Earth, which is about 1,000 times more than the animal biomass (including us humans). Bringing plants into your home, then, is one way to reconnect with the most abundant source of life on Earth. Plants don't only add color and life to stale and musty home interiors; they can also add tangible benefits such as improved air quality. Through evapotranspiration, plants can regulate humidity levels in homes. These air purifying plants can also pull allergens and even some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out of your home, thus drastically improving your interior air quality. For homes with small interiors, blooming tables offer practical ways to incorporate "plant furniture" that serves multiple purposes. For more ambitious homeowners, living walls for both home interiors and exteriors can give your home a "jungle-like" ambiance.

window view of sea

The Importance of the Sight and Sound of Water 

Our bright, blue planet differs from the thousands of other gaseous and rocky planets that have been discovered throughout the Universe. The existence of water on planet Earth is one of the defining characteristics of life. Biophilic design focuses on highlighting our dependence on water by creating water features inside the home.

If you live next to the ocean or a creek, use windows to your advantage to invite the rhythmic sounds of the crashing waves or the soft and steady bubbling of a mountain stream. For the rest of us, interior water fountains use minimal amounts of energy while mimicking the soothing sounds of water. Water walls are more extensive and more expensive additions to home interiors. When combined with plants, however, they can transform a home interior into a biophilic refuge.

green house full of green plants

Add a Greenhouse to Your Home 

Putting your hands into the soil to grow vegetables, flowers, and other plants is a palpable strategy to reconnect to the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. A small greenhouse attached to the south-facing side of your home will not only allow you to grow plants year-round but can also increase the energy efficiency and thermal performance of your home. Greenhouses can capture solar energy as part of an integrated passive solar design. With a bit of innovation, greenhouses can be made into outdoor living or dining areas, where "farm-fresh" produce takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Windows onto Woods

Floor to Ceiling Windows Where the Natural World is Present 

If a part of your home borders any natural setting, incorporating large, floor-to-ceiling windows is a great way to allow the natural world to "invade" your home. Forest settings, bodies of water, open prairies: any of these natural views should be encouraged to permeate your home through large windows. If you are worried about privacy, you can always install curtains or shades. 

Investing in triple-pane glass windows will allow you to enjoy the benefits of large windows without negatively affecting the thermal performance of your home.

The biophilia hypothesis states that human beings have an innate connection to the natural world. Too many of us, however, spend the majority of our lives inside homes and buildings that have virtually no connection to nature. The five ideas outlined above allow homeowners to bring nature into the home for a healthier and more vibrant house.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T12:01:47+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.