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Creating Biophilic Buildings

©Nic Lehoux

What if we could experience the same physical, psychological, and emotional benefits moving through an urban landscape that we experienced walking through a forest? What if we could right our relationship with nature by transforming the built environment in a way that buildings functioned in harmony with the natural world? This opportunity lies in the hands of the problem solvers – in the built environment’s case; Architects, Engineers and Designers.

As Biophilic Design builds as a movement and a practice, building knowledge from examples is key. An investigation into the resources that are available around Biophilic Design recently revealed that only four case studies were publically available. Taking inspiration from precedents is a key component for visual learners like design professionals to embrace and adopt new ideas. To allow Biophilic Design to become more widespread as a design philosophy and process, case studies that illustrate how it is achieved are needed.

The International Living Future Institute and the Biophilic Design Initiative have been grappling with this challenge. Researching case studies is time consuming and slow. As we searched for a way to honor the late Stephen R Kellert and acknowledge his significant contribution to the Biophilic Design movement, we realized that a Biophilic Design award in Kellert’s name would allow us to gather case studies as well.

Kellert defined six elements and over 70 attributes for engendering a biophilic experience in buildings in the 2008 book Biophilic Design: The Theory and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. This book of essays, co-authored by Judith Heerwagen and Martin Mador, propelled Biophilic Design into the minds of design professionals. Kellert’s list has proven to be a valuable framework that expands the understanding of Biophilic Design to be beyond adding plants and water features in buildings. It is referenced as a requirement in the Living Building Challenge program and as a result dozens of buildings have been exploring how to connect people and nature in the built environment.

Twenty-one built projects entered the inaugural Stephen R Kellert award, representing five countries and many different climate zones and project types. The award entries used Kellert’s framework to analyze their projects, providing an opportunity to compare his comprehensive approach to Biophilic Design across a group of projects for the first time.

Together with the projects submitted to the award, fourteen new case studies have been developed and will be published in my forthcoming book, Creating Biophilic Buildings, as well as on the Biophilic Design Initiative’s website. These projects were drawn from Living Building Challenge projects and have also been analyzed against Kellert’s framework, together with the award entries there will now be over thirty new case study resources that can propel Biophilic Design to the next level.

The winners and finalist of the first Stephen R Kellert award will be announced on Wednesday, November 8th at an event hosted by Interface Flooring at the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse in Boston.


1. Stephen R. Kellert, Judith H. Heerwagen, and Martin L. Mador, Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), Table 1-1, p.15.

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