Biophilia Effect (Principles of Design #77)

Biophilia effect is the well researched and understood impact of natural environments on the emotions, productivity and physical well-being of people. Such environments with natural views and imagery reduce stress and improve concentration and focus. The effect was first proposed by Erich Fromm (although William James had written about it) and popularised by Edward Wilson and has since been empirically tested.Much of the Romantic movement in the arts was inspired by the belief in the inspirational benefits of nature, and now science has proven that there may be something to this. In one experiment, 7 to 12 year old children were tracked through housing relocation, and those with most exposure to nature in their environment, made the biggest improvements in tests of attention. Similar effects have been found with college students with views of nature from their living quarters, and effects have even been found on exposure to pictures of nature, rather than nature itself.

Although there are other non-natural environments that can have positive benefits on human performance, nature is the most reliable, consistent and impactful. It has been speculated that the brain processes rural imagery differently from urban visuals, perhaps from an innate bias towards greenery for evolutionary reasons (perhaps a selective advantage like the Savanna Preference).

Whatever the background story, this is a great reason for designers to consider natural imagery in designing spaces, especially those used for learning, health and where concentration and focus are important. Incorporating real nature is the best way to do this, but even natural imagery has a positive effect. Indeed, many architectural classics (such as those of Frank Lloyd Wright) show that more nature can only be a good thing.


Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden & Butler

The Biophilia Hypothesis by Kellert & Wilson

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