Biophilic Architecture + Building Design

Pure ha-pine-ness.

Wood has been used as a building material for millennia, but the biophilic benefits of wood are only recently being studied and understood. While many people agree wood is visually pleasing, researchers are discovering that wood can contribute to the health and well-being of building occupants.

Ronald McDonald House by Michael Green Architecture
Ronald McDonald House
Photo: Ema Peter Photography | MGA | Michael Green Architecture

Breathe in, branch out.

One of the biggest causes of health problems in modern society is stress, causing any number of symptoms including anxiety, difficulty focusing, or interacting socially.

Research from the U.S., Canada, Austria, and other countries found that humans automatically relax when they are surrounded by elements from the natural world.

Uptake Technologies office in Chicago
Uptake Chicago Office
Photo: BOX Studios and James John Jetel
did you know?
Stress-reducing effects of wood and plants.

A 2010 study conducted by the University of British Columbia tested the stress-reducing effects of wood and plants in the context of an office environment by measuring the two branches of the autonomic nervous system responsible for human stress responses.

119 undergraduate students were assigned to
1 of 4 rooms
1) wood and plants, 2) wood and no plants, 3) no wood and plants, and 4) no wood and no plants. Subjects exposed to wood had lower sympathetic nervous system (also known as fight or flight) responses in all periods of the study. No treatment effects were found with respect to parasympathetic activation, or the recovery from stress.
Clay Creative office interior with people
Clay Creative
Photo: Christian Columbres | Mackenzie Architects
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According to the study, the practical implication of this effect is that wood may be able to be applied indoors to provide stress reduction as a part of the evidence-based and biophilic design.


Better concen-tree-tion.

Until recently, the link between wood interiors and productivity has been anecdotal.

Research is beginning to show that wood can make a difference. Forest and Wood Products Australia commissioned a study that linked nature, biophilic design, and wood with improved physical and mental well-being. The study surveyed 1,000 Australian workers and found a correlation between the presence of wood and employees’ overall satisfaction at work, lower absenteeism, higher levels of concentration, and improved productivity.

Infographic excerpt from Workplaces: Wellness + Wood + Productivity

did you know?
Wood and the workplace.
A recent study showed that people in workplaces with less than 20% natural wood surfaces were up to
30% less satisfied
with both their working life and physical workplace compared to those with a high proportion of wood.
Michael Green architect portrait
Michael Green
Michael Green Architecture
Wood gives mother nature fingerprints in our buildings.
Wood Innovation Design Centre mass timber interior by Michael Green Architecture

Listen to Michael Green's TED Talk on why we should build wooden skyscrapers.


A room with a view.

A growing body of evidence attests to the fact that the physical environment impacts patient stress, patient and staff safety, staff effectiveness, and quality of care provided in hospitals and other healthcare settings. 

A study by Roger Ulrich compared outcomes in patients with views of a brick wall versus patients who saw nature and trees. While patients had the same type of surgery and were matched for other demographics, patients with windows that looked out on trees and landscape had improved patient outcomes, from shorter hospital stays to enhanced mood and less reported pain.

Venture Capital Office building exterior windows
Venture Capital Office Headquarters
Photo: Eric Staudenmaier | Paul Murdoch Architects
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Get inspired by 50+ pages of biophilic project examples, design inspiration and the latest research.


Spruce this place up.

The term ‘biophilia’ translates to ‘the love of living things’ in ancient Greek.

Although the term seems relatively new and is gradually trending in the fields of architecture and interior design, biophilia was first used by psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, then popularized by biologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s, when he detected how urbanization is leading to a disconnection with nature.

Credit Valley wood interior
Credit Valley
Photo: Naturally Wood | Farrow Partnership
Biophilic design is increasingly used in the built environment to boost occupant well-being through connection to nature and the use of natural elements like views of nature, natural light, plants, water and exposed wood.
Flagship McDonald's Chicago mass timber exterior detail

Watch Oliver Heath’s introduction to biophilic design in this video.

Set your mind at ease with trees. Read this white paper on the science behind biophilic benefits from Terrapin Bright Green.

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