Biophilic Design

Building and interior design has a strong influence on wellbeing and productivity. With such potential for positive impact, implementing and understanding biophilic design is fast becoming a key topic in the built environment industries.

On average, we spend 90% of our lives in buildings. Previous research has shown that being in natural environments – or even viewing depictions of nature – can enhance people’s wellbeing. However, we spend the great majority of our lives surrounded by buildings that isolate us from nature. This in itself has a significant influence on the health and wellbeing of society.

Biophilic design focuses on the needs of people in the built environment, using strategies to help bring them back into contact with the natural world.

What is Biophilic Design?

‘Biophilia’ literally means a love of life and the living world. In Edward O. Wilson’s book Biophilia (1984) the Havard Profressor concludes that people have an inherent connection to nature, and a biological need for physical and social connections with the natural world.

‘Biophilic Design’, therefore, refers to design techniques that bring us back into contact with natural through the built environment. This is not just about incorporating plants – although that is one important factor – but also making use of natural and artificial lighting, materials and textures, colour variations, personalized workspaces, views, refuge spaces and much more.

While some may be skeptical, subsequent research has strongly supported the benefits of biophilic design. However, a growing body of scientific evidence showing that natural environments can alleviate negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression and stress, while helping people to feel calm and be inspired.

Biophilic Office Project

In this unique project, an occupied office building is being used to research and demonstrate the value of nature-inspired design on the wellbeing and productivity of those inhabiting the space.

Over 30 months the office will be monitored, refurbished and then further monitored to give insight into the impacts of biophilic design.

Find out more about the Biophilic Office Project


The second phase of the BRE Biophilic Office project will involve the full collaborative refurbishment and redesign of the office being monitored. In doing so multiple products of biophilic design will be implemented to help improve the wellbeing and productivity of those inhabiting the building.

Find out more about the progress of this project and the products used in the refurbishment here.


Building design can often forget that buildings are for people. Many designs focus on other factors such as energy use, which while being an important issue, energy only accounts for 1% of typical office business running costs; a significantly smaller amount that the 90% of costs associated with staff.

Building layout often pays too little attention to the wellbeing of their occupants, ignoring the potential impacts on their mental, social and physical health, and therefore missing opportunities to lever better business outcomes.

The critical importance of the internal build environment’s impacts on people – particularly their health and wellbeing – is not widely recognized and an increasing focus of concern. However, while some innovative new office buildings are now being designed around their occupant’s health needs – maximizing natural light, clean air and so on – this is not the reality for the great majority of office workers. They work in existing buildings, the owners and managers of which have limited budgets and a need to ensure a return on investment. Hard evidence for the benefits of biophilic design is needed if are to be convinced that investing in refurbishments that prioritise the wellbeing of building users will enhance their business.


BRE has undertaken many independent and collaborative research projects looking at both the individual elements of biophilic design and the concept as a whole. In addition to the Biophilic Office project, there have been numerous studies that have enhanced industries biophilic understanding. These projects are outlined below…

Timber and healthy buildings

Studies have shown that natural materials, patterns, products and textures have a calming and restorative quality. The role of natural materials on occupant wellbeing is being increasingly recognized.

In a recent BRE Trust supported project, BRE experts were commissioned by TRADA to produce an information sheet on specifying timber for healthy buildings, which was launched at the TTJ Wood and Wellness industry event in London in February 2019. it provides accessible expertise that will help readers to learn directly and source further information on the issues of timber in healthy buildings, and enhance knowledge of the issue in the construction sector.

This TRADA Wood Information Sheet is available from here

Biophilic Design Research Poster