Biophilia is the passionate love of life and all living things; it is the desire to promote growth, whether it is a person, a plant, an idea or a social group. The biophile person prefers to build something new rather than preserve the old. He wants to be more rather than to have more. He has the ability to wonder and he prefers to experience something new rather than to find the old confirmed. He prefers to live the adventure rather than security. He is more concerned with the whole than with the parts, more structures than summations. He wants to form and to exert his influence through love, reason and example.

― (1973a: Anatomy of human destructivity, in: Erich-Fromm-Gesamtausgabe (GA) Volume VII, p. 331.)

What the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm defined as biophilia in 1973 is increasingly finding its way into architecture and interior design as biophilic design. Interior designers in particular use people-centred approaches, taking into account the physical, mental and emotional human needs, with the aim of promoting health, safety and well-being.

PARKROYAL on Pickering, Singapore
Copyright: Patrick Bingham-Hall

Biophilia assumes that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. The term is translated in ancient Greek as "love of living beings". After Erich Fromm had already described the term, it was used by the American biologist Edward O. Wilson in his work "Biophilia" in 1984. He is of the opinion that the human tendency to focus on and join nature and other life forms is partly genetic. Wilson also established a conservation ethic based on man's innate relationship with nature. The result is brief: The basic principle of biophilia is to connect man with nature and thus increase his well-being.

"Biophilia is man's subconscious attachment to nature," says Nash Emrich, technical expert at Paladino & Co. The company advises architects and construction companies and supports its customers in implementing sustainability concepts. "Edward O. Wilson, who popularized the term in his book 'Biophilia', once put it this way: 'Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, mental, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. The closer people feel to nature, the better."

How can this look like in practice? When designing rooms, features from nature are incorporated, for example water, plants, natural light or authentic materials such as wood and stone. This integration of natural elements into the built environment reduces stress, promotes creativity and accelerates healing. Potential benefits include reduced heart rate variability and pulse rates, lower blood pressure and increased activity in our nervous system. Recently, a research team at Stanford University in California confirmed that walking in the green countryside improves mental well-being. It is also known that patients in hospital recover more quickly when they look at nature from their beds. Students* learn better in natural daylight and people who work in offices with houseplants are less likely to fall ill. In addition, people in a natural environment suffer less often from anxiety and think more positively. "Living in close contact with nature brings physical, mental and social benefits," explains Brendan O'Grady, Vice President at the Texas architectural firm CallisonRTKL, which has used biophilic design principles in many projects.

The biophilic design of the built environment is also important because most people today spend about 80 to 90 percent of their time indoors - at home and at work. The United Nations estimates that by 2030 almost 60 percent of the world's population will live in large cities. This will bring with it an increasing longing for closeness to nature. Thanks to biophilic concepts and botanical designs, people will be able to re-establish a visual relationship with nature within urban structures. Global corporations like Apple, Google and Amazon have recognized this and are investing in biophilic design.

But of course it's not enough to put a few green plants in the office. A biophilic concept requires background knowledge and must be approached in a well thought-out way. For a well thought-out biophilic design, the consultancy firm Terrapin Bright Green, which specialises in environmentally friendly construction projects, has defined 14 elements of biophilic architecture. These include visual and non-visual links to nature (windows with a view into the green or sounds, smells, haptic/tasteful stimuli); dynamic and diffuse lighting (changing light and shadow intensities); material links to nature (natural materials and elements) and biomorphic forms and patterns (patterns and textures known from nature). In this way, biophilic architecture proves to be a simple idea that is complex in its implementation. But it is worth it: work becomes more effective and more beautiful, well-being is increased - and the environment is also served.

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