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Biophilia and Its Importance in Modern-day Architecture and Design

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 2665 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Once famous biologist Edward. O. Wilson said: – “Nature[1] holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” (Wilson, n.d.) A statement which might appear questionable to some, indeed, holds the true meaning of biophilia. Biophilia as a hypothesis refers to a human inevitable connection with nature and environment. In 1984 E.O Wilson has defined biophilia in his book, as: -“the[2] urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. (Wilson, 2009) The bond between human and nature is undeniable since a man itself is a part of nature and ecosystem. However, throughout the century’s human-beings evolved magnificently, changing the whole planet in conjunction. The historic achievements have proven that a mankind can adjust the whole eco-system in their prosperity. It is mesmerizing how as inconsiderable tools as stone[3] and a branch million years ago made early human capable of inventing principal substance -fire. A fire, not only as a convenient instrument for cooking and heating, nevertheless the key ingredient in humankind as we are now. From that point, human revolutionized in magnificent rate, but the blossom of humanity’s capabilities occurred in the past epoch. (Wrangham, 2009) Inventions, technology, knowledge of once impossible subjects made us greatest species of earth, yet we are suffering mental health problems, diseases and world crisis worse than ever before. It seems as our capability of understanding the world raised, however, we found ourselves unable to celebrate the environment we created. Why did it happen? Have we forgotten something important and got lost in the chase of luxury or just become too self-absorbed? Insatiable ‘hunger’ for acknowledgement and thrive destroyed our inner peace. Urban living conditions exhaust human-beings possibly due to lack of natural bond with nature. Occasionally, people seek to disconnect from the overwhelming environment they live in, by travelling or going for a short vacation to remote places.  The question is why we need a break from the life we created that once we dreamed to achieve? That is what the biophilia hypothesis explains. Human natural bond with nature is essential in order to live a balanced and spiritual life. Nevertheless, how in today’s urbanized living conditions, people can regain the ‘connection’ with nature?

Present- Day Biophilia Concept

 To be able to exist in this world in the past, humankind was forced to have a harmonic relationship with nature and its other habitats. However, for most of the modern world dwellers this bohemian, pagan culture seem no longer relevant nowadays, hence there is a great number of things we need to learn, in order to find balance within us and our surroundings. Looking back in the history, the[4] first, human-made art was discovered in Blombos, Southern Africa that was engraved about 100,000 years ago. The evolutionary carvings in the shoreline cave are told to be the first step towards human art, history and possibility of language as we know it. (Lewis, 2014) Jerome Lewis, an Anthropologist, that focuses on former hunter-gatherer societies wrote in his article:- “While[5] popular presentations of such societies in the West tend to portray them (hunter-gatherers) as ‘primitive’, from the perspective of people such as the Mbendjele Pygmies I work within Central Africa, westerners behave as incomplete human beings – non­‐sharing creatures with voracious appetites and awesome power who have an infantile understanding of their essential humanity.” (Lewis, 2014) Shameful western culture of pride, where society sees their selves as prime intelligent habitats on the earth, lead majority of human species to forget that our presence here was given as an opportunity to grow, love and share with other planets habitats. We learned to use what planet offers for our own good, however, we forget to give something in return. The modern world and its obligations lead humanity into a blindfolded cycle of moral absence, where everyone is self-absorbed to concur the world as much as its possible.

Today biophilia is an unknown term for the majority people in the world. Without a doubt, this could have been foreseen due to people living in the technologized modern era where relentless desire to thrive and constant struggle to survive in ‘urban jungle’ estranged human-beings from their ancestors ‘roots’.

‘’We[6] will never be truly healthy, satisfied, or fulfilled if we live apart and alienated from the environment from which we evolved.” (Kellert, 2015) -defining Biophilia hypothesis made by Stephen Kellert incites the perception of the meaning of people’s lives. It contradicts the imaginable humanity’s goals in the modern world, as the truth mindfulness lies there where you feel connected to nature and natural surroundings. Nowadays technologies make our lives easier, faster, yet people intentionally chose to vacate in nature or dwell in the homes built from natural materials. All these choices are instinctively selected to regain some peace of mind or cosiness in their homes. Therefore, this aim brings us closer to the environment we evolved in.

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Gladly, as we are passing through the greatest human evolution period, more and more creative- minded people tend to stop and try to solve the issues we created in the past. Issues like unsustainability in urban areas, global warming, high rates of modern diseases, might be partially resulting due to human detachment from nature. Present-day inventors putting great effort to build the right balance between nature and the urban world. There is a great number of the biophilic project around the globe that so far working successfully for the sake of both: human and nature. Stephen Kellert has produced a documentary called Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, where he investigated the positive impact of biophilic design in various places, like offices, schools, communal spaces and hospitals. The key elements[7]  that biophilic design is based on, are natural materials, natural daylight, nature motifs in patterns and greenery in spaces. (Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, 2011) It all seems non-crucial however it affects people psychologically and physically. Once, a great American author and scientist Aldo Leopold, said: – “The[8] oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” (Leopold, Flader and Callicott, 1992) We must relearn to appreciate the environment we were born in and to use our knowledge to design a better future not only for ourselves but for the planet, that is the only way we can find harmony. We cannot fix the mistakes we made throughout the centuries, only do we have to learn and improve for the sake of a better future.

 Architecture and design take a great role in today’s biophilia concept. The structures people live, work in or pass by throughout the day, they all impact human’s state of mind, emotions and well-being. It is all connected in spiritual conception.  A modern-day challenge is to create spaces that people feel more connected to. Looking back in the past, most of the building designs were inspired by nature to some extent. For instance, even the famous building of Grand[9]Central Station in New York has biophilic motifs, like spacious rooms, ornaments and lighting fixtures. (Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, 2011) Moreover, Johnson[10] Wax building in Wisconsin designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is a great example of biophilic architecture from the past century. Its natural forms, high ceilings, woodland-like columns resemble nature and play a great role in users’ productivity. (Gibson, 2017)

Various buildings were designed to serve their purpose in the most effective fashion. Therefore, the most famous and successful architectural designs usually have one thing in common- biophilic motifs.

Connections’ to Nature Importance in Youth’s Healthy Maturation

How to Achieve It

“For[11] a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.” (Louv, 2005) Richard Louv, author of the book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ precisely described modern day issue regarding human and nature. The last generation, particularly in the western world is growing completely care-free and biophobic. Modern children at the young age suffer from various mental and physical health problems frequently due to lack of connection with nature. “People[12]possess an inborn need of contact with nature, essential for their physical and mental health, productivity and well-being.” (Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, 2011) Stephen Kellert phrase clearly defines the argument on numerous years of research and historical findings. Humanities future belongs to multiple oncoming generations; therefore, it is essential that our children understand and connect to their surroundings. Nowadays kids can use electronic gadgets such as phones and iPads earlier than they start to walk. Moreover, present parents are incapable of feeding toddlers without playing cartoons. Not long ago, children felt entertained by exploring nature, outdoor environment, though currently offspring collate outdoor play with a punishment. Nevertheless, why natural environment is crucial for child’s healthy development?

  Nature[13] deficit disorder is a present-day concern pertinent to urban society that spends practically no time outdoors. Although NDD is not recognised as a medical condition, yet it causes various behavioural problems in humans’ development. (En.wikipedia.org, 2018) Special attention needs to be given to children, to prevent future health-related issues. Issues[14], such as: obesity, vitamin D deficiency, inability to learn to assess risks in various circumstances and some mental problems. Furthermore, due to indoor lifestyle, youngsters lack of basic understanding of the importance of nature. However, to help children, explore the natural environment their parents should ‘widen the boundaries of trust’.  Understandably, urban environments contain high number of outdoor dangers, including heavy traffic or vicious stranger encounters, however there are always solutions to solve these concerns. (nationaltrust.org, 2012) According to some statistics ‘’As children grow older, their ‘electronic addictions’ increase. Britain’s 11–15-year-olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen: 7.5 hours a day, an increase of 40% in a decade.’’ (Moss, 2012) Virtual world appears to be more exciting and risk-free in comparison to the natural world that takes place outside ‘four walls’. Unfortunately, due to modern lifestyle kids are no longer able to identify numerous local fauna and flora species where few decades ago it was an initial knowledge about the world. Undoubtedly modern civilization offers plentiful advantages. Notwithstanding, how can the right balance be found in children lives regarding to urban lifestyle and nature activities?

‘’Natural[15] places are singularly engaging, stimulating, life-enhancing environments where children can reach new depths of understanding about themselves, their abilities and their relationship with the world around them.’’ (Gill, 2009) Building safer, greener and more adaptive environment considering highly children-used spaces complemented by green landscape would greatly improve the current situation. Currently not only the leisure time adolescents spend indoors moreover most of the schooling happens sedentarily. Kindergartens and schools hold a very limited outdoor space that usually contains asphalt and a tiny patch of grass. Likely better than nothing, yet these defined areas does barely anything to support child’s connection with its natural environment.

 Happily, there are number of projects around the globe, working in order to bring kids closer to nature. For instance, Sidwell Friend middle school in DC. Washington exemplifies the intelligent design not only by the means of architecture, particularly by the approach towards learning and growing… (to be continued)


1 Wilson, E. (n.d.). Edward O. Wilson Quotes (Author of The Diversity of Life). [online] Goodreads.com. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31624.Edward_O_Wilson?page=4 [Accessed 13 Oct. 2018]. (direct)

[2] Wilson, E. (2009). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (direct)

[3] Wrangham, R. (2009). Catching fire: How cooking made us human. Profile books.  (Indirect)

[4] Lewis, J. (2014). Connection with Nature.The Story of Biophilia Past and Present. [PDF] Jerome Lewis, pp.1-4. Available at: https://ucl.academia.edu/JeromeLewis [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

[5] Lewis, J. (2014). Connection with Nature.The Story of Biophilia Past and Present. [PDF] Jerome Lewis, pp.1-4. Available at: https://ucl.academia.edu/JeromeLewis [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

[6] Kellert, S. (2015). A quote by Stephen R. Kellert. [online] Goodreads.com. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6882365-we-will-never-be-truly-healthy-satisfied-or-fulfilled-if [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

[7] Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life. (2011). [DVD] Directed by B. Finnegan and S. Kellert. Tamarack Studio.

[8] Leopold, A., Flader, S. and Callicott, J. (1992). River of the Mother of God and Other Essays. Madison, Wis.: Univ. Wisconsin P., p.254.

[9] Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life. (2011). [DVD] Directed by B. Finnegan and S. Kellert. Tamarack Studio.

[10] Gibson, E. (2017). Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Johnson Wax offices like a forest open to the sky. [online] Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/06/14/frank-lloyd-wright-johnson-wax-administration-building-headquarters-racine-wisconsin-open-plan-office/ [Accessed 14 Oct. 2018].

[11] Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. New York: Atlantic Books Ltd.

[12] Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life. (2011). [DVD] Directed by B. Finnegan and S. Kellert. Tamarack Studio. (Direct)

[13] En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Nature deficit disorder. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_deficit_disorder [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

[14] nationaltrust.org (2012). Natural Childhood. [online] National Trust, pp.1-2. Available at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/documents/read-our-natural-childhood-report.pdf [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

[15] Gill, T. (2009). Now for free-range childhood. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/apr/02/children-safety [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].


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