Biophilic Design Elements


The latin roots of the word biophilia are “bio” for ‘living things’ and “philia” for ‘attraction’ (as opposed to phobias for aversions). So the term “biophilia” means “love of life or living systems”.

The hypothesis of biophilia was popularized by Edward O. Wilson in his book, Biophilia (1984) where he defined it as “the human urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. The hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.

Because of our technological advancements and more time spent inside buildings and cars, it is argued that the lack of biophilic activities and time spent in nature may be strengthening the disconnect of humans from nature. Although, it also has shown strong urges among people to reconnect with nature. The concern for a lack of connection with the rest of nature outside of us, is that a stronger disregard for other plants, animals and less appealing wild areas could lead to further ecosystem degradation and species loss.

Biophilic design elements are natural elements used purposefully as design features within urban landscapes to reconnect people with the natural environment. Think street trees, constructed wetlands or lakes, green roofs and walls, etc.


Yesterday, Valerie spent 4 hours in a workshop trying to rate biophilic design elements based on their potential to provide ecosystem functions. The framework for rating the design elements was based on the South East Queensland Ecosystem Services Framework which defines the relationship between Ecosystem Functions, Ecosystem Services and Constituents of Well-being.

Ecosystem Functions are the biological, geochemical and physical processes and components that take place or occur within an ecosystem. For example: water regulation, soil retention, supporting habitats. 19 such functions have been identified for the SEQ ecosystems which were assessed under the framework.

Ecosystem Services are the good and services provided by (natural and semi-natural) ecosystems that benefit, sustain and support the well-being of people. Of the 28 services identified you will find for example fuel resources (provisioning service), air quality (regulating service), and iconic species (cultural service).

Constituents of Well-being are the aspects of human well-being that are improved through the use of ecosystem services or the knowledge that these services exist. The basic needs of food, water and shelter are there among the 15 Constituents, but also family cohesion and self-actualisation.

The SEQ Ecosystem Services Assessment has generated a complex set of matrices but is a comprehensive means of demonstrating the value of our natural environment to our well-being. The exercise of rating biophilic design elements is part of a research project by a QUT PhD student. We are very much looking forward to the findings and final research paper.

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