Biophilic design: bringing nature indoors » DIRTT Environmental Solutions

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Bringing biophilia into your space

For years, humanity has worked tirelessly to improve technology, efficiency and quality of life. As the modern world evolves, urban populations continue to surge. In 2009, the number of urban dwellers surpassed those in rural communities for the first time. It's predicted that 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

To accommodate this urban growth, more and more infrastructure is built up around us. But, urbanites have noticed there’s something missing: nature. This is why a new trend is taking off: biophilic design.

Biophilic design focuses on the natural world. Simply put, design that tries to bring nature indoors. Humans have spent 99% of our history evolving outdoors. There’s plenty of research to suggest we thrive in these sorts of environments. At its core, biophilic design leverages nature to promote a happier, healthier and more productive built environment. 

Perhaps one of the better-known examples of biophilia is a space built by the largest online retailer in the world, Amazon. Their structure, known as ‘spheres’, is a glass dome spanning nearly 70,000 square feet. Inside, there’s a 60’ tall living wall, various water features and an elevated meeting space that resembles a bird’s nest. “The Spheres are a place where Amazon employees can think and work differently,” the company’s website says.

Amazon Spheres - Seattle, WA Amazon Spheres - Seattle, WA

Another example is the Friluftssykehuset nature preserve (Norwegian for outdoor hospital). This care center, part of the Oslo University Hospital, was designed with the principles of biophilia in mind from the start. The 375-square-foot retreat is intended to serve one family at a time while treating children who have been traumatized by traditional hospital experiences. The retreat completely reflects its surroundings with wood paneling throughout, massive windows and even a skylight that mimics mushrooms growing in the forest outside. Oslo University Hospital commissioned the new building because of the healing benefits associated with nature and the outdoors.

Friluftssykehuset - Snohetta Design Friluftssykehuset - Snohetta Design

Don’t have 70,000 square feet to build a giant glass dome or a forest nearby to build a nature hospital? You’re not alone. Thankfully, biophilic design can take many forms and be scaled to work in nearly any existing building. These are the top trends that are poised to transform your work environment into a biophilic dream:

Flower power

Flowers are for more than just special occasions. They’re a great way to bring a little bit of nature into your space.

Plants act as a natural air filter, reducing airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) while also raising oxygen levels. They’ve even been shown to reduce blood pressure levels while increasing efficiency and productivity in the workplace by up to 15 percent! When you factor in their natural aesthetic, ability to lift mood and their low maintenance, bringing a little bit of greenery into your space starts to look really appealing.

DIRTT Breathe Walls DIRTT Breathe Walls

But why stop at bringing a few plants into the office? There are ways you can get a little more creative by making biophilic design an active part of your space. For example, your plants could be used to grow fresh food. Consider a recent hospitality project in Chicago, where a luxury hotel leveraged DIRTT’s Breathe® Walls in the design of their restaurant. This decision gave their culinary team the perfect spot to grow and harvest fresh herbs for their dishes. Guests are surrounded by nature and also get the freshest food possible.

Timber in your space

Biophilic design is more than just filling your space with plants. It can be an active part of the construction process, too.

Trees are abundant and renewable. Compared to newer building materials like concrete or steel, harvesting timber requires far less energy. In fact, structural timber, when sourced responsibly, is one of the most sustainable structural building materials available. Timber also gives the space a much warmer feel while still providing structural support. Because timber is alive, each piece looks different, feels different, and has its own story to tell. That’s why DIRTT has incorporated timber frame in over 70 unique projects so far.

DIRTT Timber DIRTT Timber

Whether used as a structural element or simply for aesthetic purposes, incorporating timber elements is one of the more impactful ways to bring biophilic design into the built environment.

Scene in nature

Incorporating nature scenes within your workspace comes with a whole host of benefits for employees, including higher employee satisfaction and attentiveness. Not to mention, it really livens up a space when done right.

Nulli - Photo by Kelly Hofer Nulli - Photo by Kelly Hofer

This concept was recently put into practice for DIRTT's client, Nulli. The stunning floor-to ceiling graphic was commissioned by their executives and included in the kitchen of their new space. Management have noticed how much more use the area has received compared to their old one, and attribute it directly to the landscape mural.

Adding nature scenes to healing environments has its benefits as well. As we saw with the Oslo University Hospital, nature has the power to enhance the healing experience for patients. However, most hospitals aren’t built in a forest, but that doesn’t mean nature can’t have an impact. Consider DIRTT projects such as Mercy Health Anderson Hospital, Englewood Hospital Medical Center and University Medical Center. Each of these projects leveraged the power of nature scenes to add a breath of fresh air to the space.

DIRTT Healing space DIRTT Healing space

Landscape photos and nature scenes are a simple and inexpensive way to integrate nature with the built environment, while having a massive impact on the feeling of a space.

Bringing sunshine inside

Light plays a huge role in quality biophilic design. It goes without saying the amount and type of lighting in a space has a huge impact on the feeling and usability. Light is the one facet of biophilic design that should be considered early on, regardless of the project.

Natural light is the best type of light that a space can receive. It promotes happiness, helps keep us attuned to the time of day and is the least harsh on our eyes. But just because light wasn’t considered during the initial design phase doesn’t mean a space needs to suffer from poor lighting. Consider swapping your existing DIRTT solid walls for ones with glass clerestory's. DIRTT’s flexibility means this simple update can bring more natural light into your space in less than a day.

DIRTT Wall with Glass clerestory DIRTT Wall with Glass clerestory

Although they may be less efficient, incandescent bulbs do an excellent job at mimicking natural sunlight. But the latest generation of LED bulbs have made huge advancements in terms of light quality and harshness, too. This is great news for occupants of older buildings, since even the correct hue of artificial light can have many of the same benefits of sunlight, including increased happiness and serotonin levels.

Biophilia made easy

The great thing about biophilic design is that it doesn’t need to be difficult or complex. You can make it your very own by going as far with the concept as you’re comfortable with. Any design elements that incorporate biophilia will have a positive impact, so – let biophilia run wild in your space.


DIRTT is a global leader in industrialized construction. Its system of physical products and digital tools empowers organizations, together with construction and design leaders, to build high-performing, adaptable, interior environments. Operating in the commercial, healthcare, education, and public sector markets, DIRTT’s system provides total design freedom, and greater certainty in cost, schedule, and outcomes. Headquartered in the US and Canada, DIRTT trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “DRTT” and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “DRT”.