What sounds like a communicable disease just might help to drive the green building and quality-verses-quantity home building trends. “Biofilia” refers to why human beings function positively in environments we deem “comfortable” due to our evolutionary heritage. This has been studied extensively in landscape environments, but rarely in building architecture. It was a buzzword at this year’s KBIS, so maybe biofilia’s time has arrived after all, it dovetails beautifully with green building because it addresses natural lighting, air flow, water distribution and indoor vegetation.

Current research has shown that with biofilic considerations, workplace productivity increases, worker absenteeism declines, students study better, retail sales are higher and hospital patients recover more quickly. This helps the green building cause because it “humanizes” the effort. Energy savings are one thing, but our homes are our castles and we want to feel secure and comfortable in our humble or not so humble abodes. Understanding and incorporating biofilia principles can help us to reach these goals.

A somewhat extreme look at the trend popped up recently in the April 2007 edition of Metropolis magazine. It featured several designer concepts and products including the “flow kitchen” by John Arndt that is described as “kitchen mini-ecology in a compact modular system.” This is a sink with counter space that includes a dish drying rack that drips water onto herbs and edible plants in earthenware jars. In addition, an inset bowl flips over to dump food scraps into a “worm composter” (with live earthworms!). This slides out for dumping the composted waste. Another featured product is the biofilic work pod that has curved, smooth white “enclosure” workspaces with plants growing on the outer surfaces, forming interior green plant corridors. Not your typical gray work cubicle!

A non-profit organization called The Rocky Mountain Institute is working to ensure biofilics are not overlooked in future green building plans. Their Built Environment Team has identified these attributes:

  • the use of dynamic and diffuse daylight
  • the ability to have frequent, spontaneous and repeated contact with nature throughout and between buildings
  • the use of local, natural materials
  • a connection between interior and exterior surfaces
  • natural ventilation
  • a direct physical connection to nature from interior spaces, and
  • direct visual access to nature from interior spaces

As their literature states, “what has been often neglected by creators of low-impact ‘green’ buildings is the need for spaces to be habitable.”

Occupants of built environments don’t want simply to work, play, eat, or sleep in a functional building. They want to be inspired, invigorated, comforted, and reassured by their surroundings. “Amen” biofilia is one science we can and should all understand.