Biophilic Design

Journal of Biourbanism Volume VI #1&2/2017 

Editor’s Note

by Antonio Caperna

Editor in Chief, International Society of Biourbanism, Italy

In 1984, Edward O. Wilson’s book Biophilia introduced the hypothesis that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and living beings. Since then, many studies have been published about the role of natural structures on our mental development and neuro-physical well-being. The role and influence of nature and natural forms on humans opened new and interesting scenarios centered on biology and evolutionary processes. One of the emergent fields has been the role of biophilia in design, and more generally, in the built environment. Much research has focused on this topic and aimed at ameliorating the quality of the city, including our daily aesthetic and cognitive experience of it.

After analyzing the literature, I have come to believe that there is still much work to do in answering specific questions. What is the deep meaning of biophilia? How can we recognize real biophilic design beyond the use of plants and green infrastructure? Why do ancient built environments seem more “biophilic” than most modern constructions? Finally, should we not address the political and economic structure of our society if we want to make our world “biophilic”?

These and other questions should guide our research for building a better environment. Too many architects and planners have reduced biophilia to a mere “green approach” where green infrastructure is presented as the panacea to solve every problem of contemporary cities. Consequently, architects and planners vow to fill cities with plants, green façades, roofs, et cetera. Such a childish approach marks the gap from real biophilic design. The use of vegetation is nothing but a small piece of biophilia, as European cities abundantly show with the limited support of patios and small gardens. Their successful design comes rather from the enforcement of rules, which provide a connection between the built environment and the purposes of the community. They constitute a bridge on which ancient masters have built a living architecture.

Biourbanism stresses the relevance of biophilic design in connecting and strengthening life to support people’s cognitive, social, and psychological needs in space.

Biophilic architecture should thus be characterized by three attributes: 1) a naturalistic dimension; 2) wholeness of the site, and 3) geometric coherency. All of these attributes reinforce social interaction by supporting the unfolding of inclusive environments that reflect the inborn affinity between human being and nature, and at the same time, are capable of supporting our neuro-physiological, psychological, and biological systems.

This current issue of the Journal of Biourbanism is dedicated to biophilia and design.

In “Connecting with Nature: Biophilic Design in Environments Built for Communal Living”, Carol Price and Gary Skolits examine the role of biophilic design in developing therapeutic landscapes and restorative spaces. This works enriches the therapeutic landscaping literature with a focus on people who have been diagnosed Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The second contribution entitled “Human-Nature Interaction Patterns: Constituents of a Nature Language for Environmental Sustainability” by Peter H. Kahn, Elizabeth M. Lev, Sara Park Perrins, Thea Weiss, Trecia Ehrlich, and Daniel S. Feinberg, analyzes interaction patterns. The Authors suggest that saving nature is not enough of a step. Humans should interact more with nature, and interaction pattern design can help reach such a goal. To illustrate this notion, they discuss over 60 interaction patterns to expand the idea of biophilic design in supporting environmental sustainability.

In “A Psychological Approach to Olfactory Information as Cues in Our Environment”, Kai Hamburger and Harun Karimpur discuss how olfactory information can facilitate our landmark-based spatial orientation. The Authors show how sensorial support may be very useful in nursing homes and clinics. Scents, as an attribute of biophilic design, can enhance cognitive abilities and quality of life.

The contribution “Relationship between Urban Morphology and Patio Housing in Mediterranean European Cities during the XV–XVI centuries” by Valentina Pica investigates the use of the typological model of the patio house and its relation with the urban form in Mediterranean Europe during the 15th–16th centuries. Pica analyzes the construction phases of more than 20 traditional houses in the historic center of Granada, Spain. Her study is linked to several analyses that focus on traditional architecture and the role of the medina in the Islamic West.

The work of Paul Downton, “The Promise and the Limits of Biophilic Architecture”, proposes the combination of biophilia as a way to support human health and biourbanism as an approach to support urban life in all its forms. The Author also suggests that the limits of biophilic design are not strictly dependent on biophilic sensibilities, but rather on valuing nature for its intrinsic worthiness.

“The Implications of Fractal Fluency for Biophilic Architecture” by Richard P. Taylor, Arthur W. Juliani, Alexander J. Bies, Cooper R. Boydston, Branka Spehar, and Margaret E. Sereno discusses how fractal forms interact with the human visual system. The Authors analyze how fractal art and architecture facilitate navigation. The visual effect of fractal patterns generates an aesthetic experience accompanied by stress mitigation.

Finally, the contribution by Zaheer Allam “Smarting an Existing City in Mauritius: The Case of Port Louis”, proposes an ecologically sound approach to the “smartization” of the capital city of Mauritius as an extension of biophilia into urban- scale service design.

The biophilic approach is a turning point for design. Next, biourbanism studies should address the realization of a coherent framework able to extend and transform this corpus of observations, laws, and principles into a set of practical design and building tools.

Editor in Chief, Antonio Caperna

Contributions by Carol Price, Gary Skolits, Richard P. Taylor, Arthur W. Juliani, Alexander J. Bies, Cooper R. Boydston, Branka Spehar, Margaret E. Sereno, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Elizabeth M. Lev, Sara Park Perrins, Thea Weiss, Trecia Ehrlich, Daniel S. Feinberg, Kai Hamburger, Harun Karimpur, Valentina Pica, Paul Downton, Zaheer Allam, Sara Bissen, and Amy Tibbels.

Photograph by Angelo Abbate (2018)