Biophilic Systems

The homes of the ancient Egyptian nobility, Persian settlements, and medieval Chinese villages were all marked by extensive and elaborate gardens demonstrating that people went to considerable lengths to maintain contact with nature (Ulrich, 1993).


The term ‘Biophilia’ was coined in 1964 by social psychologist Edward Fromm and made popular by Biologist Edward Wilson in 1984.

The term “biophilia” literally means “love of life or living systems.” It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology. Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward organisms, species, habitats, processes and objects in their natural surroundings.

In 1865, American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted argued that “…the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”.

As the urban phenomenon grew in the 19th century, more attention was been paid to improving health and the quality of living in urban areas.

Over the years with the emergence of the green building revolution, connections between better quality of living, environmental quality and productivity, an experiment in the 1900’s was one of the first to successfully attribute improved lifestyle and productivity to connections with nature.

In the last decade, conversations, books, experiments and practical usage of Biophilia has been on the rise, texts, such as Last Child in the Woods (Louv, 2008), Healing Spaces (Sternberg, 2009), The Shape of Green (Hosey, 2012), Your Brain on Nature (Selhub & Logan, 2012), and “The Economics of Biophilia” (Terrapin Bright Green, 2012), are bringing the conversation mainstream, helping the public grapple with modern society’s dependency on technology and persistent disconnect with nature.

Practically, there is a growing trend of hospitals incorporating the concept of Biophilia and healing gardens in their building designs because it is believed that nature helps patients heal faster. These Biophilic applications have also found their way into mainstream office design and help increase productivity.


informal meeting area on the ‘be green’ floor at google docks, Google campus, Dublin photo by peter wurmli © camenzind evolution

Timothy Beatley in his book Biophilic cities stressed the urgent need for a more ‘nature-ful’ cities. He discusses many different techniques for including nature in our cityscapes. “Parklets” are a feature being used in San Francisco, USA and other cities where individual parking spaces are turned into mini-parks by the addition of sod, benches, planter boxes, and trees.


Parklet, San Francisco, California, credit: Tim Griffith

In Seattle, USA, property adjacent to a city reservoir is being developed as an urban orchard of fruit and nut trees as well as “p-patches” for individual family gardens and Portland, USA have begun developing “green streets” using bio-swales and rain gardens to treat storm water at its source and lessen the impact on storm sewer systems and downstream rivers and lakes.


Green Street, Portland, Oregon, USA


In Nigeria, it has become important for us to not just design parks but design and adopt and tailor these Biophilic principles into our urban cities. These design applications will severely decrease urban sprawls, improve quality of living and make the city more habitable.


Estate Development, Nigeria
Estate Development, Nigeria

It is paramount to start a conversation on how cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha and Jos can become biophilic cities by protecting, restoring and increasing its biodiversity, providing opportunities to connect with nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling and exploring the city, creating a deep multisensory environment where citizens can appreciate nature and ultimately creating cities where habitants can readily identify with flora and fauna and in turn deeply care about them.

Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Lagos
Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Lagos


Port Harcourt, Rivers State

There are so many ways a city can become a biophilic city step-by-step and future blog posts will go into detailed examples of how cities have adopted biophilic principles, their results and practical steps individuals and governments can take towards achieving this ‘nature-ful’ dream.





Beatley, T.: 2010, ‘Biophilic cities’ (Island Press, Washington DC).

Browning, W.D. & J.J. Romm (1994). Greening the Building and the Bottom Line. Rocky Mountain Institute.

Gullone E.: 2000, ‘The Biophilia Hypothesis And Life In The 21st Century: Increasing Mental Health Or Increasing Pathology?’ Journal of Happiness Studies 1: 293–321, 2000: 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Terrapin Bright Green (2014). 14 patterns of Biophilic design. New York: Terrapin Bright Green llc.

Ulrich, R.S.: 1993, ‘Biophilia, biophobia, and natural landscapes’, in S.R. Kellert and E.O.Wilson (eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis (Island Press, Washington DC), pp. 73–137.



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