interior design

BIOPHILIC INTERIORS – spaces that reconnect us with nature

Let’s start with the basics. What is Biophilia? Biophilia is the inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature that even in the modern world continues to be critical to people’s physical, mental health and wellbeing (Wilson 1986, Kellert and Wilson 1993, Kellert 1997, 2012).  Biophilic interiors therefore harness this affinity in order to create natural environments for us to live, work and learn.  

Design that connects us to nature is proven to inspire us, boost our productivity and even contribute to a stronger sense of well-being.  Now more than ever, it’s necessary to bring the outdoors in and create indoor environments – biophilic interiors, that reference nature in both obvious and subtle ways.

biophilic interior, prado restaurant by Arkstudio

PRADO RESTAURANT by Arkstudio, Photographer: Rodrigo Cardoso

Biophilic design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize these qualities are ever more important. Theorists, research scientists, and design practitioners have been working for decades to define aspects of nature that most impact our satisfaction with the built environment.

Unfortunately, modern society has erected many obstacles to the beneficial experience of nature. Most problematic is an increasing disconnect from the natural world, often viewed as merely a resource to be exploited or a nice but not necessary recreational amenity. This increasing separation from nature is reflected in modern agriculture, manufacturing, education, healthcare, urban development, and architecture.

The relationship between humankind and nature can be one of respect and love rather than domination…The outcome…can be rich, satisfying, and lastingly successful, but only if both partners are modified by their association so as to become better adapted to each other…With our knowledge and sense of responsibility… we can create new environments that are ecologically sound, aesthetically satisfying, economically rewarding.

René Dubos, The Wooing of the Earth
biophilic interior - NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup,

NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Irina Boersma


In Terrapin Bright Green’s ‘14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’ paper, we learn that the patterns are tools to recognize and articulate the individual elements of what constitutes biophilic design. They use science and psychology to help us define it, so that we can understand how to apply each point when considering human needs within design. Not every space can be designed to incorporate all the principles, but a few contributory Biophilic design elements will collectively enhance the well-being of an interior.

The 14 patterns are grouped into three categories—Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues and Nature of the Space.


Direct sensorial contact with nature in a space doesn’t simply mean proximity to a pot plant or two. Interaction with the natural world can be tangible from the presence of a stimulating view of nature; or by using plants, water features, natural air-flow or breezes, sounds and scents. Design using this group of patterns will create meaningful, direct connections with natural elements through diversity, movement and multisensory interactions.

1. Visual Connection with Nature – Stimulating views to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes, such as a window with a garden or sea view, potted plants, flower beds, courtyard gardens, green walls and green roofs.

Peter’s house by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Peter Krasilnikoff

2. Non-Visual Connection with Nature – Often undervalued design interactions that stimulate our other senses of sound, touch, smell and taste to remind us of our connection to nature.

3. Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli – The rich sensory stimuli of nature in consistent, yet unpredictable, motion, such as the gentle sway of grasses in a breeze or ripples on water.

4. Thermal & Airflow Variability – The subtle changes in air and surface temperature, humidity and airflow across the skin that mimic natural environments.

5. Presence of Water – To see, hear or touch it.

6. Dynamic & Diffuse Light – Clever use of light and shadow to mimic the lighting conditions or circadian processes occurring in nature.

7. Connection with Natural Systems – An awareness or proximity to natural processes, such as seasonal changes, reminding us of the process of healthy ecosystems.


With Natural Analogue patterns, we use elements with an indirect connection to nature that create a cue to the brain that sparks the same sense of well-being as the natural world. By mimicking the finer details of nature with textiles, artwork, light, shapes or patterns you can re-create the biophilic human connection, and therefore the healthy responses, to the great outdoors.

8. Biomorphic Forms & Patterns – Symbolic representations within the design of the patterns, shapes, textures or numerical arrangements found in nature.

SARA restaurant by Odami, Photographer:  Kurtis Chen.

9. Material Connection with Nature – Biophilic interiors use materials, grains, textures and elements in design that distinctly reflect the natural environment to create an overarching sense of the natural world.

NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Irina Boersma

10. Complexity & Order – An abstract but visually appealing concept that uses the rich sensory information of the symmetries, hierarchies and geometries found in nature.

Gift shops created by Koichi Takada Architects inside National Museum of Qatar, Photographer: Tom Ferguson


The Nature of the Space patterns define how we relate to the building, room or space around us on a deeply human level. We have an innate desire to want to see beyond our immediate surroundings and can be fascinated with the slightly dangerous or unknown. Obscured views, design revelations, installations and moments of mystery or peril excite us and maintain our interest and enthusiasm. Combining these elements with patterns from the other two groups provides maximum impact in biophilic design.

11. Prospect – We have an intrinsic desire to see beyond our immediate surroundings or over long distances, dating back to an anthropological theory of survival. Prospect patterns consider a big-picture view of your environment. Elements of interior design that best represent this include the addition of balconies, oversized windows or skylights, mezzanine levels, open plan spaces or transparent partitions that provide uninterrupted views.

12. Refuge – Like Prospect, the Refuge pattern focuses on the ability to look out over your surroundings, but from the safety of a protected position away from the buzz of central areas of activity. An acoustic pod within an open-plan office, for example, provides a safe haven to concentrate away from noise or stimuli  while maintaining a view of the world around it.

13. Mystery – Feel the excitement and unknown elements of the great outdoors in the built environment. The promise of more information, achieved through partially obstructed long-distance views, design revelations, surprising installations or unexpected architectural features, draws us in and engages us with our environment. The success of the Mystery pattern is in the anticipation of what might be around the corner, which creates a strong and undeniably pleasurable human response.

Kojimachi terrace by Nendo, photographer Takumi Ota

14. Risk/Peril – It’s the thrill of danger from an identifiable risk coupled with the sense of a reliable safeguard. Evolution designed us for survival. Whether it’s a high walkway or a glass wall overlooking a city skyline, the Risk/Peril pattern triggers the rush of living on the edge of safety.

Kojimachi terrace by Nendo, photographer Takumi Ota


Not every space can be designed to incorporate all the principles of biophilic design, but there are often many contributory elements that will collectively enhance the interior and the wellbeing (I have wrote more about wellness focused interior design in this post) of those within it. It’s more than just the addition of a pot plant or two! Natural light, vegetation, good air quality and ventilation, living walls, natural textures,  materials and nature views will provide a positive impact.

Perhaps we don’t need such rigorous evidence when it comes to nature contact… Maybe we don’t know everything there is to know about human benefits of nature contact, but we have a pretty fair idea, and we know a lot about designing nature into the built environment. And given the pace at which decisions are being made and places built, there is a pressing need to implement what we know. We can’t wait for the research.

Howard Frumkin, 2008 Nature Contact and Human Health, Biophilic Design

Featured image: HARLAN & HOLDEN DINING by GamFratesi, photo by: GamFratesi

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