Introduction to Biophilic Design

Antonio Caperna, PhD

Picking up a word coined by Edward Wilson, we define biophilic that kind of architecture which is capable to supply our inborn need of connection to life and to the vital processes. The biophilic space is therefore an environment that strengthens life and supports its sociological and psychological components, or, in other words, it is able to:
(i) unburden our cognitive system, supporting it in collecting and recognizing more information in the quickest and most efficient way;
(ii) foster the optimum of our sensorial system in terms of neuro-motorial influence, avoiding both the depressive and the exciting effects;
(iii) induce a strengthening in emotive and biological terms at a neural level;
(iv) support, according to the many clinical evidences, the neuro-endocryne and immunological system, especially for those people who are in bad physical condition.

The benefic effects of biophylic architecture are known since long time. First of all, it facilitates the uninterrupted flow of isomorphic sensorial feedback, mostly unconscious and automatic for us, connected to our emotive state. Each obstacle to the flow causes stress, whose physiological effects have been the subject of a wide bibliography , starting from the classical study of Hans Selye. Within this fundamental need of an isomorphic correspondence between environment and cognitive exercise, we can find the basic motivation to the construction following algorithmic canons which are appropriate to human dimension, expressed as proportions, shapes, scales, order, ornaments. That connection feeds our neuro-physiological system and the recognition process connected to it is implied in the release of neuromediators of pleasure.

From a biourbanistic point of view, biophilic architecture is characterized by the following elements:
(i) the naturalistic dimension, that is, the realization of shapes and geometries which directly (e.g. sun light, ecosystems, etc.), indirectly (e.g. using fountains) or symbolically (e.g. through images) reflect and support the natural affinity between human beings and nature;
(ii) the Wholeness of the site, that is, “the basic structure of the place”, where each planning action is bedded in a context of wholeness, so that “ … at any given moment, in any part of the world, there is a deep wholeness that exists there. This is the structure of the whole: the largest and deepest physical configuration that is present there. It can be felt and seen”;
(iii) the “geometric coherency”, that is, the physical space must have such a geometrical configuration capable to exalt the connections human dimension and built and natural environments.

The pre-mentioned features are the grounding corpus of the Biophilic Design, defined as that design, which learns the “laws” deriving from the sciences of life and actuates the same laws in terms of strategies, technological progress and through a space-syntax structured on “patterns” so that it is able to (i) design inclusive environment for everybody, (ii) reflect the inborn affinity between human being and nature, (iii) support our neuro-physiological, psychological and biological system and (iv) respect and strengthen the “genetic code” of the place.

So, we are talking about an architecture which is capable of providing for our inborn need of connection with life through morphogenetic processes; that is, for the research of that “optimal shape”, defined upon different levels of scale (from the psychological to the ecological one), which preserves and/or reinforces the efficiency and the resilience of the system and which is therefore capable of influencing positively on the quality of life and realizing a structural sustainability.


Source: A. Caperna and S. Serafini, “Biourbanistica come nuovo modello epistemologico”. In: A. Giangrande, E. Mortola, P. Mirabelli, A. Caperna (eds.) Partecipazione e ICT. Per una città vivibile. Roma:  Gangemi, 2013.
ISBN13: 9788849225365 978-88-492-2536-5
ISBN10: 8849225369 88-492-2536-9 T206D S13g G38e