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The Benefits of Biophilic Architecture in Africa

5 Sept 2023

Biophilic architecture is an emerging sustainable design concept that aims to connect building occupants more closely to nature.

The Benefits of Biophilic Architecture in Africa

Biophilic architecture is an emerging sustainable design concept that aims to connect building occupants more closely to nature. As many African architecture firms look to adopt more environmentally friendly and health-promoting design principles, biophilic architecture presents an excellent opportunity.

In this article, we’ll look at what biophilic design is, its key benefits, and how it can be implemented effectively in Africa.

What is Biophilic Architecture?

Biophilic architecture aims to foster positive connections between people and nature within designed environments like buildings and cities. The term “biophilic” comes from “bio” meaning life and “philic” means loving. So biophilic design promotes human’s innate biological inclination to affiliate with natural systems and processes.

Specifically, biophilic architecture incorporates natural elements, materials, shapes, and spatial patterns to mimic the complexity found in nature. The goal is to create buildings and spaces that connect occupants more closely to nature and evoke positive emotional responses.

Some key principles of biophilic design include:

  • Maximizing use of natural lighting, ventilation, plants, and greenery.

  • Incorporating natural shapes, forms, materials, and material patterns into spaces.

  • Integrating nature views and vistas from interior spaces.

  • Creating direct physical and indirect visual connections to nature.

  • Designing spatially complex environments with variation and movement.

Biophilic architecture draws on evolutionary theories that humans are inherently drawn to nature. As a species, humans evolved in natural settings over millennia. Being surrounded by vegetation, water, sunlight, animals and natural shapes triggers positive physiological and psychological responses in people. Biophilic design harnesses this innate affiliation.

The leading proponent of biophilic architecture and design is the American architect Stephen R. Kellert. He outlined the core principles and benefits of biophilic design in his seminal book “Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life” published in 2008.

Other noted researchers who have helped advance biophilic design include E.O. Wilson who coined the term “biophilia” and Rachel and Stephen Kaplan who studied nature's ability to restore mental fatigue. Their work showed nature's profound ability to enhance people's health, well-being, and function.

Benefits of Biophilic Architecture

Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the wide-ranging benefits that biophilic design strategies provide.

Improved Well-Being and Cognitive Function

Humans have an innate biological affiliation with nature that stems back to our early evolution. Being surrounded by natural elements and patterns has proven physiological and psychological benefits.

Views of vegetation, water features, and other nature scenes lower stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. Natural light exposure regulates our circadian rhythms and vitamin D production. The sights and sounds of nature trigger positive emotional responses and restore mental focus and clarity.

Overall, biophilic spaces have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, speed up recovery times, strengthen immune systems, and foster creativity.

Increased Productivity

Multiple studies have recorded performance increases for employees working in offices incorporated with biophilic elements. Workers in spaces with natural lighting, greenery, and nature views were found to be 6-16% more productive than those in environments devoid of nature.

Students in biophilic classrooms with living walls, natural materials, and daylighting also significantly outperform their peers in standard classrooms. Healthier environments result in higher engagement, motivation, and academic achievement.

Greater Energy Efficiency

By maximizing use of natural lighting, cross-ventilation, and shade, biophilic buildings require less reliance on artificial lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. This substantially reduces a structure's energy usage over its lifespan.

Studies by architects like the Miller Hull Partnership have recorded 40-50% decreases in energy bills for offices retrofitted with biophilic elements.

Enhanced Air Quality

The abundant vegetation and plants incorporated in biophilic spaces naturally filter particulates and pollutants from indoor air. They also increase oxygenation and humidity levels, resulting in healthier air quality and improved respiratory health.

Lower Operating Costs

The energy efficiency savings and occupant health benefits of biophilic buildings synergistically result in lower utility bills, healthcare costs, sick days, and turnover expenses over time. This makes biophilic architecture highly cost effective.

Natural Stormwater Management

Green roofs, living walls, rain gardens, bioswales, and other biophilic landscape features help absorb and evaporate precipitation. This reduces stormwater runoff, flooding, and erosion while also naturally cooling buildings.

Implementing Biophilic Design in Africa

Africa possesses diverse natural landscapes and ecosystems that are ideally suited for biophilic architecture. Many vernacular African building styles have long incorporated natural elements and used local materials in a biophilic manner.

Here are some ways African firms can effectively implement biophilic design principles:

Optimize Natural Light and Ventilation

Properly orienting building shapes and room layouts allows for maximum daylighting and cross-breezes. Operable windows give occupants control over their environment while connecting them to outside nature sounds and scents.

Add Abundant Indoor Greenery

Plants purify indoor air while connecting people to nature. Vertically stacking vegetation on living walls brings vibrant nature indoors. Interior atriums, green walls, planted shelves, and potted plants are all biophilic options.

Use Natural Materials and Patterns

Materials connected to local nature like wood, bamboo, straw, clay, stone laterite, and thatch have intrinsic biophilic qualities. Fractal geometries and natural patterns can also be incorporated into floors, walls, and facades.

Incorporate Nature Views and Outdoor Access

Maximize outward views to nature from interior spaces. Patios, decks, terraces, and balconies allow occupants to directly experience outdoor nature.

Create Thermal Comfort Through Passive Design

Use shading, insulation, thermal mass, and natural ventilation to maintain comfortable temperatures without air conditioning. Make spaces climate responsive.

Add Natural Landscaping Features

Gardens, lawns, courtyards, fountains, rooftop farms, and water features bring nature to a site. They provide peacefulness while managing stormwater.

Foster Spatially Complex Environments

Create spaces with varied ceiling heights, alcoves, atriums, interconnected walkways, and indoor-outdoor transitions. This simulates the complexity and mystery of nature.

Promote Cultural Connections to Nature

Incorporate natural elements that tie to local cultural traditions, environments, and vernacular architectures. Celebrate this diversity.

Educate Clients on Biophilic Benefits

Explain the many benefits of biophilic strategies to clients. Make biophilia a core part of your firm's branding and identity.


Biophilic architecture presents an opportunity for African firms to design sustainably while also benefiting human health and productivity. 

Rooted in native African building practices and landscapes, biophilic principles - natural light, greenery, natural materials and fractal geometries - make indoor spaces healthier, more energy efficient and inspire creativity. 

As the continent urbanizes, biophilic architecture provides a model to grow in harmony with nature.

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