Americans spend around 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle. The physiological issues resulting from human isolation from the outdoors include vitamin D deficiency, high blood pressure, and weight gain just to name a few. Finding ways to design our buildings in a way that connects humans to the outdoors will help mitigate these negative impacts and help people feel more alert and be more productive. Biophilic design attempts to reduce this disconnect between humans and nature using the six Kellert Design Elements[i]:

  1. Environmental features
  2. Natural shapes and forms
  3. Natural patterns and processes
  4. Light and Space
  5. Plant-based relationships
  6. Evolved human-nature relationships

The Living Building Challenge has made these elements integral to its Biophilic Design Initiative, which celebrates the connection of people and nature in our built environments. It recommends that designers and developers who are interested in this approach begin by holding a one day exploration to discuss the Kellert Design Elements. Emphasis should be placed on understanding the site, people, and project context. This can include historical and cultural influences, any cultural implications or lessons to be reflected, where and how people can celebrate their connections to each other, or the reason for the project occurring. For example, Te Kura Whare – a community center in New Zealand – was built with wood harvested from forests that are managed by the Tuhoe people (native to the area). Various design features of the building, including a powerful wooden arch spanning the front of the entrance and columnar supports made of local pine draw a connection between the cultural history of the site and the present day building.

Next, the team should create a Biophilic Framework, which serves as a goal oriented document focusing on desired outcomes. This should summarize how the team could incorporate biophilic design elements into the project’s overall design as well as indicate how these elements align with stakeholder priorities. For instance, the team may propose a green or vegetated wall at the project entrance. Such a design feature would evoke lush landscapes, invite visitors into the building as a beautiful eye-catcher, enhance acoustics, and keep the space cool to reduce operational costs.

Teams may also find it helpful to devise a Biophilic Plan, which helps the designers implement the Framework. This could include an action items list, timelines or deadlines, tracking methods, and deliverables. The Plan focuses on executing the six Kellert Elements and allowing the biophilic design ideas to be integrated into the overall building design. At this point, decision making methodologies should be set in place and the team may brainstorm how to work around any design constraints. For example, the Delos HQ in New York City has an eleven foot glass curtainwall system that provides occupants with abundant access to natural daylight and low glass partitions between desks to ensure every employee has access to views to the outdoors. There are no operable windows in the space, however, restricting access to outside air. Due to this constraint, Delos employees have been provided with access to an ample outdoor terrace connected to the fourth floor.

Using a building or site’s design elements to replicate the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits we experience in nature can not only lead to improved tenant and visitor wellbeing, but can also reduce operational costs and create a more valuable building. For more information on biophilic design ideas, strategies, or consultation services, please contact Moe Fakih below:

Moe Fakih, Principal

VCA Green


Contributing Writer: Luca Costa, Project Administrator


Living Future Institute, Biophilic Design Initiative,