The term “biophilia” was originally used in 1973 by American psychologist Erich Fromm, who described it as an intense love of life and all that is living. Carrying forward Fromm’s ideologies, American biologist Edward O. Wilson introduced the term ‘biophilia’ in his 1984 book to describe how people are innately—possibly even genetically—inclined to identify with the natural environment and unconsciously seek a closer relationship with it. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study in 2009 wherein they discovered that artificially created regions with no connections to the natural world can serve as a “discord,” consequently impacting mental and physical well-being negatively.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both at home and work, the average individual remains inside for about 90% of their time. With the advent of urbanization, humans are progressively disconnecting from nature. Due to this design disjunction, biophilic architecture seeks to re-establish a connection between humans and nature through. It is based on the idea that individuals are most content in natural settings. Through planning and construction of structures that include natural features, and through the use of natural materials, ventilation, vegetation, and natural light management, biophilic design seeks to reveal nature’s enlivening effects by incorporating elements of nature into its design.
Advantages and Approach
Biophilia is tremendously advantageous to human health. According to Catie Ryan, a pioneer in biophilic design, mental health is boosted by 37% from “audible stimuli such as sounds of nature versus common urban noise after stressor exposure.” Additionally, some other studies also discovered that presence of plants indoors improved pain tolerance and decreased stress. Visual and auditory stimulation from water proved to be recuperative and calming for its users. Biophilic strategies can be employed in multiple manners.
Visual connections to nature – expansive oceans or lush forests – is a common biophilic principle. This could also be achieved through courtyard building typologies or the incorporation of flora. Biophilic concepts also promote healthy air quality and circulation. It can be attained through solar chimneys, overhead rolling doors that link the indoors and outdoors, and movable windows. The choice of materials and finishes also helps users feel connected to nature. It may be reflected through patterns, paneling, paint, or similarly. Another characteristic is the ability to maximize natural light via building orientation, sun shading devices, and solid to glazing ratio. Solid tubes and atriums are alternative mediums for diffusing daylight. Lastly, the acoustics are an important factor of biophilic design. Noise can be transformed into soothing sounds by strategically placing natural buffers as countermeasures. Also, the urban heat island effect can be diminished through green facades over existing walls or by creating “living walls”. Green roof systems act as cooling masses by blocking sunlight during summer and offering insulation during winter, reducing the need for heating.
Let us look at a few projects based on biophilic architecture in India.
Paradox by CORE Architecture, Pune
CORE Architecture has designed an innovative and lively contemplative space for the Pune headquarters of German manufacturing Altana’s Elantas Beck India Ltd. They created a comfortable, biophilic microclimate for the workspace by utilizing passive cooling design principles which led to substantial reductions in energy consumption. The project – Paradox – is named rightly so as the concept was to build calm, yet dynamic and vibrant space all at the same time. Other design strategies include the use of golden elements and homogenizing nature with the architecture. The project structure can be functionally split into two East-West oriented halves, both with longer faces towards the North and South orientation. The common zone between the two halves has been imagined as a valley linking two rock outcrops which consequently creates a microenvironment with a breeze lowering the building’s ambient temperature.
In terms of facades, each orientation follows a separate design treatment. While the South face was treated with operable louvers and shading systems, the East and West facades had few to nil openings due to the harsh, horizontal morning and evening sun. The North and South facades provided all the necessary lighting for the workspaces. The elevator within the building was replaced with a verdant mound to encourage walking and create a characteristic and experiential circulation route. Additionally, the central area offers views of a coconut plantation and connects to a reflecting pool with stormwater collection capabilities and the overflow for recharging groundwater. Communal activities are scattered in the central area to create a lively layout rather than a static spectacle. The overall architecture expresses a minimalist aesthetic and stays true to its meditative appeal through biophilic integrations.
Identiti Advertising Studio by Meister Varma Architects, Kochi
Meister Varma Architects were tasked with the naturally ventilated renovation of Identiti Advertising into a work-and-stay unit for a growing joint family in addition to a 20-person workplace. The existing building was an architectural prototype popular in Kerala for its ‘build to rent’ style. Since the project is set in a tropical environment, Meister Varma has employed biophilic architectural strategies, creating a long-lasting connection between people and nature. The structure incorporates a range of places and activities to serve as a paradigm of energy for life in a congested metropolitan setting.
Starting from the inside, space was carved out of each story to resonate with the space requirements. An uninterrupted space devoid of columns was situated on the ground floor, followed by a conventional apartment layout for the parents on the first floor, and lastly, an open concept apartment for the sons on the second floor. A common feature on each level was the presence of ferrous oxide walls with built-in lighting. Plaster and color surface treatments of the exterior are used to distinguish the public and private programs. To the east, a cement pattern work creates visual seclusion from neighboring residences, whilst also filtering light for the living spaces. Built-in planters serve as vertical kitchen gardens where herbs and creepers are grown.
Jungalow by Neogenesis + Studi0261, Surat
Jungalow is a low-budget 6BHK house with a biophilic concept commissioned by a farmer for himself and his family on the outskirts of Surat, Gujarat. This home is constructed around a courtyard with operable glass walls that allow the interiors to extend and connect to the outside. Jungalow optimizes the availability of natural light, and additionally – as the name suggests – the project contains extensive landscaping to create a lush, jungle-like appearance despite the absence of a formal garden. Urban farming is incorporated into the exterior and interiors and the material palette is retained to its natural texture and form to complement the naturally occurring flora.
The ground floor follows an open plan organization, and the garage of the house is topped with stepped terraces and balconies. The lounge and dining area are adjacent to the double-height courtyard, with a circular aperture that filters light and climbers and creepers that shelter the indoor areas from direct sunlight exposure. Another interesting feature is a shrine located in a triple-height void on the ground floor that provides daylight to the center of the structure. The design mimics the Shikhara – a pyramid resembling the structure seen in several Hindu temples. Lastly, plants from the balconies overhang the terraces below.
Being deprived of sensory stimulation, social connections, and links to nature at home and in the workplace creates an undesirable living lifestyle. Meanwhile, biophilic design is facilitating a harmonious design strategy in architecture that also serves as a solution to modern-day exhaustion and stress. It is “an inventive approach to bind this concern of binding nature with built spaces to create a comfortable natural environment for us to work and live a healthy life together.”
- Castra, F. (2018a). Identiti Advertising Renovation / Meister Varma Architects. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/899532/identiti-advertising-renovation-meister-varma-architects.
- Castra, F. (2018b). Jungalow House / Neogenesis+Studi0261. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/886366/jungalow-house-neogenesis-plus-studi0261.
- Core Architechture. (n.d.). Paradox. [online] Available at: https://corearchitecture.in/project/paradox/.
- Griffiths, A. (2018). Neogenesis+Studi0261 incorporates courtyard into Jungalow house. [online] Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/01/13/neogenesis-studi0261-planting-courtyard-terraces-jungalow-house-surat-india-architecture/.
- HMC Architects. (2019). Create Access to Nature Through Biophilic Architecture and Design Principles | Thought Leadership. [online] Available at: https://hmcarchitects.com/news/create-access-to-nature-through-biophilic-architecture-and-design-principles-2019-01-23/#:~:text=Biophilia%20means%20%E2%80%9Ca%20love%20of.
- Radhakrishnan, D. (2019). Eco Friendly: Why green houses and offices are the need of the hour. [online] Architectural Digest India. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/nature-eco-friendly-mumbai-pune-bangalore-kochi-ahmedabad-thissur/.
- Roberts, T. and Writer, R. (2020). What Is Biophilic Design? [online] Rise. Available at: https://www.buildwithrise.com/stories/biophilic-design.