Wellness and Deep Biophilia

If we accept that ‘biophilia’ describes our love for nature, then how far does that love go? Day Two of the BRE Wellness and Biophilia Symposium opened up some potentially inconvenient truths for designers, specifiers, manufacturers and suppliers.


The question that needs to be asked is, at what point do we stop being in love with Nature? After all, we open up the ground to exploit mineral wealth, we pollute the oceans with plastics and we despoil the air with toxins. So when we talk about biophilic design, how deep do our affections actually go?

Biophilic design in practice exists around the edge of Sustainable practices. Filling an office space with biophilic imagery is a starting point in improving the spiritual welfare of its occupants – and therefore their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing, but if the materials used in that office space have come at the expense of the wider ecosphere, what good have we really done?

Day Two of the Symposium was given over to looking at case studies and initiatives where biophilic design has been successfully embraced. But, most interestingly, these initiatives are being realised with sustainable practices at their heart.

Three levels of engagement were discussed:


Nationwide engagement via Government Policy


Presented by Dalia Wagid, Senior Sustainability Consultant for AESG in Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makoum is UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. If a sustainability policy needs to come from the top, then this is as high as it can go. In 2010, Shiekh Mohammed announced UAE Vision 2021. There are six pillars to the strategy: World Class Healthcare; Competitive Knowledge Economy (The Light Review has featured one of these intiatives); Safe Public and Fair Judiciary; Cohesive Society and Preserved Identity; First Rate Education System; and a Sustainable Environment and Infrastructure.

During a visit to The Sustainable City  Sheikh Mohammed said:  “Our vision is clear in terms of establishing sustainability’s pillars as a key component of our development journey, which is part of the national agenda. We are committed to sustainability, which is a top priority that we strive to implement taking into consideration environment conservation, and balance between economic and social development.”

Dalia presented a number of office interiors with Dubai. In each case, the sustainability principles reached down into the specification of biophilic interventions in the buildings.


Private investment in a construction project, from the client’s point of view


Presented by Richard V. Piacentini, President and CEO of Phipps Conservatory  and Botanical Gardens and Sonja Bochart, Principal at Shepley Bulfinch.

A question that we’re hearing asked more and more often is ‘how do we make a good building’? The answer as far as Phipps Conservatory is concerned is to involve everyone concerned in the project. The buy-in, from client to contractor, has to be in place from the outset. Sonja introduced us to The Integrative Design Process, with the accompanying strapline ‘Synergy not Compromise’. The Process is described in Shepley Bulfinch’s web article: ‘Sustainability: A values-based approach.’

A stand-out for me was the positive use of artworks to enhance the biophilic experience. With the acronym of BETA, ‘Biophilia enhanced through Art’ allows the creative process of artists and makers to further develop connections with Nature.

The BETA Project at Phipps: Biophilia Enhanced Through Art


The word ‘biophilia’ is a new one to the craft community., but makers have been producing ‘biophilic art’ since forever. Its good to see that there’s the potential for a new marketplace opening up to them.
FULL DISCLOSURE: reader, I married one of them.
Biophilic Analogue as Art and Craft at Townhill Studio.


When an individual company seeks to make a difference.


Presented by Jon Khoo is regional Sustainability Manager (UKIME & Nordics) for Interface

For those who don’t know the Interface story, it begins in 1994 when Ray Anderson (sadly no longer with us), founder of Interface was asked what his company was doing for the environment. Embarrassed not to have an answer he sat down and read The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken – and never looked back. If you want to read Ray Anderson’s story, I wholeheartedly recommend his autobiography ‘Confessions of a Radical Industrialist’. – and then watching his numerous YouTube videos. Start with this one – and then watch all the others.

Ray Anderson (1934 – 2011): Founder and president of Interface


This video was recorded in 2011. Mission Zero has since accomplished and has since been superceded by Climate Take Back – an ambition to turn Interface into a positive contributor to climate change.

On the high street, Interface has influenced sustainable practices  by reviewing the way that its flooring products are made and has used biomimetic design principles to provide biophilic design into its product.

I have to admit that Ray Anderson has been a hero of mine since I first watched that video.


Where does that leave us? For me, Sustainable design within the built environment that doesn’t celebrate an overt Gratitude to Nature is being disrespectful  – and Biophilic Design that doesn’t include a deep connection with Sustainable practices isn’t really worth the name.


Let’s finish with another video presentation from Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

An Ideal Biophilic Design process: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical gardens



Here’s a final, final thing. If you’re interested to read a guide on how to create a biophilic environment, then I suggest you get hold of ‘Creating Positive Spaces using Biophilic Design

This is an Interface publication, authored by Oliver Heath of Oliver Heath Design. Click on the adjacent image to go to the Interface page.

Oliver Heath Design is responsible for the biophilic design work that is going into BRE’s Biophilic Office. Oliver is a leading proponent of biophilic design in the UK.

The publication can be downloaded from the Interface site.



Thanks are due to BRE, the organisers and hosts of The Wellness & Biophilia Symposium.

The Light Review is looking forward to hearing more about progress on The Biophilic Office and will be reporting back to you later in the year.


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