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Biophilic Design: Growing Alongside Plants

By Tess Buckley

Tess and Jade Buckley, Outside Adventure circa 2004.

My childhood home sat at the top of Avon Crescent, where my twin and I would find crayfish friends in the ravine and venture to the end of our street for walks in the ‘fairy forest’. I grew up around nature with the opportunity to connect with its beauty daily. I have always felt my happiest when I am near nature, calmer, more energized, positive, and clear-headed. This love for nature is referred to as biophilia and it is innate in all of us – it is a concept that suggests humans possess a tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life (hyperlink: Browning). Sadly, the number of parks and open spaces are decreasing, while many rivers and soils are being paved over to accommodate more people (Birkeland). As a result, mitigating the impact and rate of rapidly declining green spaces is becoming more urgent (Easton). There are both scientific and business cases for implementing biophilic design, as it is both emotionally and economically beneficial. Biophilic urban acupuncture is a way to mitigate or alleviate urban environmental problems experienced in cities such as Montreal. Biophilic Urban Acupuncture is the theory that threads and nodes of biophilic interventions in specific urban places can help improve people's moods, connect people to places and help improve mental health. Implementing accessible and convivial civic spaces that include biophilic urban acupuncture enhances the value of spaces and places with extended positive impacts to inhabitants.

Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri Architetti.

Biophilia is known as mankind’s innate biological connection with and responsiveness to experiences of nature, both living and abiotic, as well as ephemeral and temporal (Browning). These environments are heavily present in the suburbs, however, the biophilic design represents a way to increase and maintain nature in urban areas dominated by glass and concrete. The importance of biophilic design represents both a solution and opportunity to create healthier and more productive urban residents in rapidly developing and densifying environments.

ĒDN garden in Singapore.

There are both scientific and business cases for the implementation of biophilic design. First off, the scientific case, biophilia has been seen to help with healing and stress reduction. A distinct example of this is that hospital patients heal faster when there is a plant wall present in their rooms (Browning). This stress reduction is thanks to the ‘soft fascination’ that occurs when individuals interact with nature. Soft fascination replenishes people’s cognitive capacity, thus reducing their mental fatigue and increasing their focus and attention (Yin). In clinical settings, it has been found that the inclusion of natural sound, aromatherapy, green plants, and a view of nature reduces mental stress, increased pain tolerance, and shortened hospital stays (Browning). These benefits are both long and short-term and can be seen in positively impacted standardized test scores, increased cognitive development, graduation rates, and decreased criminal behavior (Browning). The business case for biophilia can be seen in the direct economic benefits of its implementation. The positive economic development as a result of biophilic design is clear in increased productivity, retail sales, and property value (Heerwagen). As discussed in the scientific case, stress reduction and decreased fatigue result in a more efficient and present workforce (El-Baghdadi). Catching crayfish and exploring the ‘fairy forest’ as a child boosted my twin and I’s energy levels and quality of life and decreased our stress and increased our home's property value.

Let us focus on creating biophilic urban design and systems that encourage people to connect with nature, safeguard the cities' efficiency, and return its inhabitants' wellbeing. Implementing biophilic urban acupuncture will relieve stress in the built environment through small-scale, socially catalytic interventions in the urban fabric. This will transform overlooked everyday spaces into beautiful and engaging places. As we continue to grow, the social responsibility and environmental impact of what people and the planet need become as important as economic value and help to outweigh the costs of implementation while supporting larger sustainability goals.

Joanne Therien's plants - a friend of YPS.

Tips to incorporate Biophilic design on an individual level:

  • Larger windows, ideally looking towards natural areas

  • The importance of touching/coming in contact with nature

  • Plants, plants, and more plants

  • The presence of water

  • Taking breaks in nature

I have grown alongside and within nature and its systems; this interaction has supported and educated me in more ways than one. As this article comes to a close, I encourage the reader to go outside, and I shall do the same.

Tess and Jade Buckley, Outside Adventure circa 2020.

Learn more

Browning, William. Ryan, Catherine. (2020). "Nature Inside: Biophilic Design Guide” (Chapter 1, 5, 9, 11, and 12).RIBA Publishing. PDF.

Birkeland, J. (2016). Net Positive Biophilic Urbanism. Smart and Sustainable Built Environment. Bingley 5(2): 9-14.

Easton, Megan. (2017). Torontonians have a nature problem – can biophilic design be a solution? Ryerson University. PDF.

El-Baghdadi, Omniya. Desha, Cheryl. Hargroves, Karlson. (2013). Considering the Economic Value of Natural Design Elements at City Scale. Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society. PDF.

Heerwagen, Judith. Africa, Julia. Loftness, Vivian & Balagtas, Catherine. (2019). Biophilic Design and Climate Change: Performance Parameters for Health. Frontiers in Built Environment. 5. 28. 10.3389/fbuil.2019.00028.

Yin, Jie. Yuan, Jing. Arfaei, Nastaran. Catalano, Paul J. Allen, Joseph G. Spengler, John D. (2020). Effects of the biophilic indoor environment on stress and anxiety recovery: A between-subjects experiment in virtual reality. Environment International, Volume 136,105427, ISSN 0160-4120,

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