Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (2024)

What follows is a presentation made by Matt Morley to the team at Turner & Townsend in Scotland in October 2022, introducing the concept of biophilic design as a combination of nature + wellbeing + sustainability.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (1)

The work of a biophilic design consultant in real estate and hotels

As a biophilic design consultant I work across healthy buildings and sustainability strategy. I work with real estate developers and hotel groups, and I have a subdivision to Biofilico called Biofit that specialises in gym consultant services, again for real estate developers and hotel groups primarily.

So taking that a level deeper, and now starting to tackle the subject of biophilic design. Any project that comes in could be something like a real estate ESG plan, a sustainable interiors or sustainability for an operational hotel.

what is a biophilic design consultant?

A biophilic design consultant may help architects or interior design teams to define a specific wellness concept, they may play an active part in concept development or concept design but in such cases they cede all creative control to the architects or designers.

What's really interesting about biophilic design, is that it sits at the intersection of green buildings and healthy buildings. Biophilic design, sort of inter-weaves through both of those worlds, sitting somewhere between the two.

So right away from the more strategic piece up top, where I'm working hand in hand with the developer on a building certification project such as LEED, BREEAM or WELL, biophilic design pops up in the credits check list, and recognition is given for incorporating it.

So within the building certifications, that something like GRESB, within a real estate portfolio would expect you'd find biophilic design there.

The same with workplace wellness. And then obviously, within both green buildings and healthy buildings, there are “access to nature” credits, as well as specific “biophilic design” credits.

While I'm not designing for credits or for certifications but these standards do help to push the industry in the right direction a lot of the time, and then demand comes from there.

Why use a biophilic design consultant?

So clients will recognize that this topic is something they need to address as part of their real estate development or hotel development project, then ask how they can bring nature into what they are designing. The architects or designers may not always have the in-house resources for this type of work, in which case a consultant is required to help fill the gap.

For example, there are plenty of options to create biophilic wellness concepts within a healthy building strategy, or if you like ‘set pieces’ - smaller, multi sensory areas or rooms within a far wider project where you're able to really push the biophilic design angle through.

what is biophilic design?

So what is biophilic design exactly? Well, it's a design strategy intended to reunite indoor and outdoor worlds through the use of natural materials, forms, textures, colors, patterns, light, sometimes even breezes, we can think of natural ventilation strategies in certain parts of the world, you can also increasingly find the use of specific scents and sounds as part of the mix too.

We're introducing or reintroducing the natural world back into our buildings and interiors, with the aim of positively impacting occupant wellbeing, whilst always respecting the environment. It wouldn't really make sense for me to do this stuff, if I was then having a negative impact on nature. The whole concept is bringing nature into the built environment so that gives us a cyclical approach whereby I also need to think about how I do that in a sustainable way.

Balancing wellbeing and sustainability in biophilic design

A project could be more wellness oriented, or occupant wellbeing oriented, and it can be sustainable but if there isn't nature in there, then it wouldn't be biophilic design.

Obviously there's quite a lot that can happen in the healthy building and green building space that doesn't involve nature. But when there is that all important element of nature, then that's our magic sauce for biophilic design.

what are the responsibilities of a biophilic design consultant?

As context, I'm clearly working in this space between developers on the one side, and architects on the other. And then a lot of what I'm doing is, is helping project managers, Quantity Surveyors and the interior designers or architects to get a sense of how this will happen, how much it costs, and also trying to iterate along the way.

Often the client is more or less on board by the time I get involved because they've made an effort to reach out, they recognise a gap in their team resources and are looking to fill it in an efficient manner.

what are the benefits of biophilic design?

We can identify benefits both for people and for planet. On the people side the benefits include enhanced mood, generally making feel people just that little bit happier about spending time in any give space within a building.

It's interesting the effects on cognitive function too as it helps restore concentration levels and gives the mind a bit of a rest before, for example, going back to work or study.

Nature connection, obviously, has been linked to feelings of vitality, ergo having more nature around generally makes occupants feel good. That connects with mood again, and reduces stress and anxiety.

Whereas on the environmental side biophilic design can deploy a whole array of sustainable materials to help improving the indoor air quality with all these plants coming into play removing or indeed completely avoiding toxic substances by specifying natural, non-toxic materials. I'm minimizing my environmental impact while hopefully making something that looks good too.

There is lots out there around biophilic design’s impact on anxiety, effectively reducing anxiety and stress whilst it enhances and improves cognitive function. So again, concentration levels and creativity are the two to focus on as benefits.

It's quite hard to quantify that sometimes. But there's research studies on direct exposure to nature. And that could be going for a walk in the park or spending time in a forest. Then there are research studies, specifically on biophilic design. A lot of what we do is correlated from studies focused on spending time in nature and then effectively, we're doing our best to recreate that or bring elements of that indoors.

Biophilic design in residential developments

The video above was a residential real estate development in Canary Wharf called The Wardian by EcoWorld Ballymore. Biofilico basically created this indoor green environment as a pre-opening sales and marketing activity with the team at The Wardian, then we did some research around people spending 30 to 60 minutes in there during their lunch hour, mostly visiting from Canary Wharf, so they were busy professionals.

We recorded various data points such as how they felt when they arrived, vs when they left, their perceived levels of stress or anxiety, again, upon arriving upon departure, or perhaps unsurprisingly, you generally make people feel a bit happier when they spend time in this beautiful green glasshouse with birdsong, natural aromas, plants and all sorts of little hacks that we could use.

I think more than anything, it was the data around productivity and creativity that stood out. So they had some tasks that they could do, at the end of this time that they spent in this biophilic space, and some quite tangible data that came out of the other side of that we did that with the University of Essex, in fact.

what are the key concepts of biophilic design?


Firstly, ou've got plants and landscaping. In fact, most people think effectively, that's all it is. I think, if anything I'm aiming to show that there's considerably more to it than that, for example, representations of nature, so indirect forms of nature, so not literally a plant but other ways of evoking nature.

So clearly, plants is kind of a big one, everyone thinks of vertical garden walls, clusters of pot plants from the ceilings, indoor gardens, rooftop gardens, hydroponic farms of lettuce leaves, and things that can then be harvested on a weekly or bi weekly basis. And that all is very much kind of the common baseline for all of this.


Then there's quite a bit further we can go from non living versions of nature, such as wall murals, wallpaper, artworks, mosaics, there's lots of indirect representations like that, that we can use. And they're especially useful in areas where facilities management is going to be difficult, or they're challenged by putting in life elements of nature, and especially if it's a lower ground space with no natural light. So in that case, I kind of flip away from direct biophilia to an indirect version.


Lots of materials we do go quite deep into the health and sustainability aspect, combing form and function. We can even get into bio-based materials, there's a whole myriad of natural materials that we can use that also conveniently give you a certain natural aesthetic. So that would be a big piece of biophilic design that also conveniently connects with both healthy building strategies and sustainable interiors.


As I mentioned, sounds, this is a friend of mine from Glasgow in fact, he's done a biophilic sound project for the Kimpton Hotel, where he created a whole series of soundscapes, he went into forests recorded the sounds of just being in a forest, and then introduce those into a hill hotel room into the Kimpton hotel, in fact, so hotels hospitality, showing quite a serious interest in this now, largely for its sort of calming and restorative effects. Hotels are certainly getting on board.


Scent, there's quite a lot you can do around trying to recreate the smells of the forest. And then yeah, there's a conversation with the the MEP consultant in how we get that done into the ducts without damaging the indoor air quality. But when it works, it can be quite a nice extra feature. And you'd be surprised how sound and scent in addition to the visual stuff.


Light as well can all make a massive impact in a pretty short time. So we've been in sort of a lobby area of a building, or in the waiting room of a spa before going into a treatment space. All of these elements can have quite a tangible impact on how someone perceives that experience. And really that's what what I'm aiming for - having a positive impact on how they feel as they spend time in that space before they move on to wherever else they're going.


Bio-Design is arguably one of the more avant garde aspects of biophilic design. So what we can do now is use products that have actually been grown or that are made of purely bio based materials. biofabrication would be the act of of growing a product. You might have heard of mycelium, which is effectively a mushroom based or mushroom root base material. You can see a friend of mine there in New York who's creating a mold for a lampshade with straw husks.

So while some of these things can feel a little fantastical, as with so much stuff, give that five or 10 years and I think you'll see that it becomes quite a central piece of of sustainable interior design, green building and also biophilic design, which is already adopting it as part of kind of biomimicry, which is the concept of deliberately recreating and cross fertilizing between nature and industrial design, or indeed architecture.


It's difficult to define beauty at the best of times but natural beauty is this other thing that when it's there, you just kind of know it. And that's really a challenge to the architects and designers, obviously balancing the costs and the budget, but it can often be a visual piece that just has that little something that nourishes the soul in some small way.


We're seeing things like healing gardens in care centers, and restorative spaces and corporate offices in Silicon Valley. We're increasingly seeing these small set pieces of biophilic design areas or spaces within a building, or in a courtyard of a building, that really push the whole wellness angle, and also serve to do a whole bunch of other things in terms of biodiversity, rainwater management, for example.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (2)

Biophilic office interior case study

This is an office Biofilico worked on for a natural foods group in Switzerland, in fact, a couple of years ago, again, working with local interior designers, advising them on all the eco stuff. And it really went quite deep, because they had a lot of technical issues in that space. As you can probably tell, it's a round shaped building. And effectively a concrete and glass block. And they have real issues with acoustics.

So a lot of the work we were doing was around. Yeah, acoustic dampening and bringing some of the outside world in at the same time. So doubling up in a sense, not just thinking about the visuals, but also about how we could bring more light into the core of the building, and get rid of some of their pretty serious acoustic problems or echoes going up through the atrium to the top floor.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (3)

office ecology room concept design

This is one Biofilico was working on for a tech giant, I don't think it's going to happen in the end sadly but it was a big Silicon Valley player who wanted an ecology room in all of their offices - a space that these knowledge workers could spend 20 or 30 minutes in, that was entirely eco friendly and that would allow them a space to be, rather than to do.

As much as anything, I found that a really interesting example of where the tech companies are at now and how biophilic design connects with their vision of workplace wellness in particular, obviously, it's a company that has plenty of budget for such things. And yet, it is clearly a sign of what's to come in terms of where these corporate offices are going.

So you don't need a lot of space, it could be just 50m2 but it can still become a calling card in terms of attracting workers back into the office, for example, post COVID.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (4)

university eco gym and mental wellness space

This is a Biofit designed biophilic eco gym space within the Health Promotion unit in the Karolinska Medical University in Stockholm. It was really just a piece of unused workspace for graduate students and staff, in fact, at the Medical University, and they asked me to create a fun, interactive area where people could go and do a quick workout or just do some stretching and break away from the otherwise monotonous hard work that they're all doing at the Medical University.

Karolinska are a very innovative and forward thinking research university in that sense. They've got a lot of their own researchers working on biophilic design, so perhaps not too surprising that they were willing to commission something like this for student mental wellbeing.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (5)

Residential Real estate and biophilic design

Some residential examples from around the world. This is currently where it's at - offices went ahead of the rest, took the lead, but now residential developments are coming round to the benefits of biophilic design too. There is the CapitaSpring building on Raffles Place in Singapore by Bjarke Ingels Group for example, based in Denamrk but with offices around the world.

Residential developers are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. In London it’s interesting to see how many examples are appearing in urban areas like Canary Wharf, so a business district, or in a high-end residential area like Chelsea that is already quite leafy and verdant.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (6)

workplace design and biophilia

Workplaces is really where it all began, because Silicon Valley were the first movers on biophilic design. And so it was, in a sense, the influence from the west coast first, but it’s taken hold in the co-working sector in London for example.

The new plans for a massive Google building in New York represent a huge investment, with CookFox NYC behind the biophilic architecture and design there. In Milano there is Welcome Milano by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma where the whole concept is around biophilic design, that’s for developers Europa Resorse.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (7)

medical facilities and healthcare with biophilic design

Medical centers now increasingly have healing gardens, a form of direct exposure to nature, while dental clinics are also incorporating this into their interiors, along with cancer care hospitals, care homes and hospitals.

So again, largely it's playing on the restorative wellbeing card - the restorative benefits of access to or exposure to nature. Clearly it's a bit more serious in these cases, as in, it's not just an aesthetic decision, it's more of a functional design strategy.

There's a specific emotional response that the biophilic designers are looking for when they when they do this.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (8)

educational facilities with biophilic design

Same with education in that it can both be an interesting way to engage with kids in schools as well as universities. Again, Karolinska Universitet have got vertical garden walls all around their medical university, they were an early adopter of biophilic design.

If you could design a school today, and you have the option to incorporate an element of nature, especially in a dense urban environment, I think most of us would rather have that for our kids, and give them some access to nature, anything is better than nothing.

Even if you haven't got an outdoor space, then biophilic design basically solves that problem by bringing nature indoors. It can never fully recreate experience being outdoors, but you can get pretty close. And the kids love it!

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (9)

restaurants and cafes with biophilic design

Restaurants tend to opt for even more creative interpretations of this theme. Whether it's using foliage wallpapers, they just seem to have a much less constrained brief. So they can literally build it into the shape and format and structure of the building.

Again, just a few examples of how you can do things like SILO in London, that's a zero waste, fully sustainable restaurant that has won all manner of awards, and is subtly biophilic in its interiors, without being too obvious.

I think places like that are sort of the cutting edge of where this is all going. They're using biomaterials, some of those funky ones that we mentioned earlier, and really pushing the envelope in terms of what's out there and how far this thing can go. Because the end of the day, if all of this is just decorating with plants, I think at some point, people would have got fed up or it would become commonplace. So it's about ensuring that biophilic design evolves.

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (10)

CBD retail with biophilic design

CBD retail obviously is all in North America for now but this is a real low hanging fruit for biophilic designers. And again, assuming that the legislation changes in other countries, too, then I think you'll see very much the same approach as CBD stores take hold in the UK and Europe as well over coming years - biophilic design is a perfect fit for this type fo product.

We can identify a pared back, minimal interior space with lots of nature, but very deliberately professional in style, and avoiding the stereotype of what we might imagine a CBD store to look like.

biophilic design

Matt Morley

biophilic design

Introduction to biophilic design concept best examples — biofilico wellness interiors (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Sen. Emmett Berge

Last Updated:

Views: 5879

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Emmett Berge

Birthday: 1993-06-17

Address: 787 Elvis Divide, Port Brice, OH 24507-6802

Phone: +9779049645255

Job: Senior Healthcare Specialist

Hobby: Cycling, Model building, Kitesurfing, Origami, Lapidary, Dance, Basketball

Introduction: My name is Sen. Emmett Berge, I am a funny, vast, charming, courageous, enthusiastic, jolly, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.