top of page
  • Vivian Wholey

The Benefits of Incorporating Biophilia in the Home and How It Can Be a COVID-19 Solution

When designing a residential space, it is important for designers to put the wants and needs of the client first, making it a space that makes them healthy and happy. A great way of doing this is to look at biophilia.

Biophilia is the practice of incorporating nature and natural elements into the built environment. Biophilic design has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. Since the average American spends 90% of their life indoors, with most of that time most likely being spent in their home, increasing biophilia in the built environment would have significant results.

Biophilic design has fourteen patterns that can be organized into three categories: Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space. The most successful biophilic spaces tend to employ more than one pattern for maximum impact. The patterns in the category Nature in the Space involve the incorporation of elements from nature into the design to the point where the space almost imitates the living environment itself. The Natural Analogues category consists of patterns that reflect the natural environment rather than completely imitate it. Finally, the patterns that make up the Nature of the Space category involve the built environment of the space itself as opposed to the interior. Utilizing these biophilic design patterns are only just a few of the ways to incorporate nature into the design.

Nature in the Space

Visual Connection with Nature

A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Water feature

  • Green wall

  • Artwork depicting nature scenes

  • Large windows

Non-Visual Connection with Nature

Stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes through a person's sense of hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Fragrant herbs and flowers

  • Natural ventilation (operable windows, breezeways)

  • Textured materials (stone, wood, fur)

  • Crackling fire/fireplace

  • Digital simulations of nature sounds

  • Mechanically released natural plant oils

  • Highly textured fabrics/textiles that mimic natural material textures

  • Domesticated animals/pets

Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli

Randomly determined and momentary connections with nature that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Billowy fabric or screen materials that move or glisten with light or breezes

  • Nature sounds broadcasted at unpredictable intervals

Thermal & Airflow Variability

Subtle changes in air temperature, relative humidity, airflow across the skin, and surface temperatures that mimic natural environments.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Solar heat gain

  • Radiant surface materials

  • Space orientation

  • Systems controls

  • Window glazing and window treatment

  • Window operability and cross ventilation

Presence of Water

A condition that enhances the experience of a place through the seeing, hearing or touching of water.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Visual access to rainfall and flows

  • Water wall

  • Aquarium/fish tank

  • Reflections of water (real or simulated) on another surface

  • Imagery with water in the composition

Dynamic & Diffuse Light

Leveraging varying intensities of light and shadow that change over time to create conditions that occur in nature.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Daylight from multiple angles

  • Firelight

  • Multiple low glare electric light sources

  • Ambient diffuse lighting on walls and ceiling

  • Daylight preserving window treatments

  • Task and personal lighting

  • Accent lighting

  • Personal user dimming controls

  • Circadian color reference (white light during the day and lack of blue light at night)/Color tuning lighting that produces white light during the day, and minimizes blue light at night

Connection with Natural Systems

Awareness of natural processes, especially seasonal and temporal changes characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Wildlife habitats (e.g., birdhouse, honey bee apiary; hedges, flowering vegetation)

  • Exposure of water infrastructure

  • Natural patina of materials (leather, stone, copper, bronze, wood)

Natural Analogues

Biomorphic Forms & Patterns

Symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Window details: trim and moldings, glass color, texture, mullion design, window reveal detail

  • Installations and free-standing sculptures

  • Furniture details

  • Arrangement of the structural system (e.g., columns shaped like trees)

  • Acoustic paneling (wall or ceiling)

  • Railings, banisters, fencing, gates

  • Furniture form

  • Window details: frit, light shelves, fins

  • Pathway and hallway form

Material Connection with Nature

Material and elements from nature that, through minimal processing, reflect the local ecology or geology to create a distinct sense of place.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Accent details (natural wood grains; leather; stone, fossil textures; bamboo, rattan, dried grasses)

  • Interior surfaces (veneer, countertops)

  • Woodwork, stonework

  • Natural color palette, particularly greens

Complexity & Order

Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Wallpaper and carpet design

  • Material texture and contour

  • Window details: trim and moldings, glass color, texture, mullion design, window reveal detail

  • Plant selection variety and placement

  • Auditory stimuli

  • Exposed structure/exoskeleton and mechanical systems

Nature of the Space


An unimpeded view over a distance for surveillance and planning.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Partition heights ≤ 42 inches (hedges; opaque workplace partitions)

  • Transparent materials

  • Balconies, catwalks, staircase landings

  • Open floor plans

  • Elevated planes


A place for withdrawal, from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Spaces with weather/climate protection, or speech and visual privacy

  • Spaces reserved for reflection, meditation, rest, relaxation, reading, or complex cognitive tasks

  • Operable, adjustable or translucent (or semi-opaque) shades, blinds, screens or partitions

  • Drop or lowered ceiling or soffit, overhang or canopy

  • Lowered or varied light color, temperature or brightness


The promise of more information achieved through partially obscured views or other sensory devices that entice the individual to travel deeper into the environment.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Auditory stimulation from an imperceptible source

  • Peek-a-boo windows that partially reveal

  • Curving edges

  • Winding paths


An identifiable threat coupled with a reliable protection.

Design Ideas for Implementation:

  • Infinity edges

  • Façade with floor-to-ceiling transparency

  • Transparent railing or floor plane

While the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is new, the need for designers to prioritize human health is not. Incorporating biophilic design into the home is not only a great way to promote mental health of the people inhabiting the space, but maintain and even improve their physical health. This is especially important when thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 was not the first disease to spread in a global pandemic, and it unfortunately won’t be the last. If biophilic design starts in the home, then so does healthy living, which will be beneficial to everyone, living in a pandemic or not.


Browning, W., Ryan, C., & Clancy, J. (2014, September 12). 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. Retrieved April 10, 2020, from

20 views0 comments


bottom of page