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Biophilic Design: Bringing The Outdoors In

In a 2015 article from Metropolis Magazine, Stephen R. Kellert, Professor Emeritus, Yale University in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, penned the rubric for biophilic design, an outdoors-in approach of thoughtful reconnection through nature-focused design. The article pulled from Kellert’s prior research on the desire for kinship to nature in the modern environment.

March 26, 2019

In the article, Kellert establishes the quota for biophilic design through five distinctive characteristics, which, boiled down, distinguish what is and, most importantly, what isn’t biophilic design.

We’ve compiled his thoughts, as well as thoughts from Herman Miller, on the topic.

What is Biophilic Design?

According to Kellert, biophilic design asserts:

  • Exposure to nature irrelevant to productivity does little for human wellbeing.
  • Isolated experiences of nature produce only fleeting effects on humans; biophilic design must be a sustained connection with nature.
  • Exposures to nature in isolated settings, such as a singular plant or picture of nature, is not biophilic design. Biophilic design ascertains that nature must be thoughtfully and wholly integrated with the overall space or setting.
  • Biophilic design amplifies human performance and productivity by fulfilling the human inclination to affiliate with nature.
  • Effective biophilic design fosters connections between humans and their surroundings, driving positive interactions, relationships and membership within the community.

Herman Miller, in a 2013 white paper called Nature-Based Design: The New Green, demonstrated that nature-based design, as proven by a 2011 review in the International Environmental Health Research journal, can lead to increased health.

This evidence amalgamates Kellert’s findings and further emphasizes the innate human need for partnership with the primal environment -- and not through isolated, one-off circumstances.

Of Herman Miller’s findings, the following suggestions were particularly impactful on health:

  • Light rooms with bright, natural light
  • Offer a clear view of nature outside
  • Welcome animals indoors
  • Cultivate grounds for viewing
  • Display nature photography and nature art

When properly designed, these nature-based spaces were shown to reduce stress in modern, built environments and returned over $470 million in recouped productivity value, says Terrapin Bright Green, who published their own findings on biophilic design in 2012.

Implementing Biophilic Design

“The fundamental challenge of biophilic design is to address these deficiencies in the modern built environment by initiating a new framework for the beneficial occurrence of nature,” says Kellert.

In order to address these deficiencies, Kellert argues that we, as a society, must be in direct experience of nature to feel the true benefits of biophilic design.

Experiencing light; water; air, animals; plants; weather; and natural landscapes is a true experience of nature; in opposition, images of nature, natural materials and colors; mobility and wayfinding, natural shapes and forms; and biomimicry are indirect experiences of nature.

Building on his findings, Herman Miller offers suggestions for biophilic design in the workplace through Prospect and Refuge; Fractal Patterns and Biodiversity.

Prospect and Refuge

In recent years, work environments have become increasingly open, creating opportunities for collaboration. This in turn creates prospect through space plans that provide multiple vantage points from most locations.

However, these open spaces lack privacy, refuge and protection from interruption.

Canvas Vista from Herman Miller bridges the gap between productivity and collaboration through forward-thinking design that can be customized to your unique company goals and culture. Featuring movable screens, thoughtful storage and T-shaped lights, you choose your level of productivity and the boundaries that work best for you.

Fractal Patterns

Incorporating fractal patterns, like those found in trees, can contribute to human performance and wellbeing.

Particularly, as this Fast Company article points out, the acacia tree, found on the African savanna where humanity evolved from hunter/gatherers, is especially pleasing.

Textiles, architecture or furniture detailing that replicates those fractal patterns has been shown to be stimulating and restful -- reducing stress levels nearly 60%, says Lance Hosey, author of The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology and Design.


Creating choice and mystery is a part of the natural environment and can contribute to bolstered productivity at work. Changing artifacts, unique architectural details, and video/graphic displays for people to encounter throughout their workspace reinforce the need for connection through biophilic design.

Plus, as the white paper points out, humans require choice in their work environment, whether it’s an ideal spot next to a window, coffee bar or a technology-friendly conference room. Choices are important, just as they are in nature.

Herman Miller Living Office Open Office Interior Design

From quality furnishings to installation, Office Environments creates innovative, well-designed workplaces that allow your organization to thrive. Drop by one of our locations in Alabama and Florida or visit www.officenvironments.com to learn more about us and how we can transform your workplace.