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From Ego to Eco: The Future of Biophilic Design

In a world where concrete and steel define the horizon, there is a growing need for a deeper connection with nature. As our cities expand and our buildings soar, we have, along the way, lost a fundamental contact with the natural environment. Patterns of biophilic design provide a framework for a future where architecture can transform the way we live and work and reconnect us with nature.

photograph of Fallingwater, arch. Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater – arch. Frank Lloyd Wright

It might seem as if we have always worked and lived indoors. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are by nature outdoor beings. In the millions of years of human evolution, our human brain has been strongly shaped by interactions with our natural environment. Outdoor living has had a number of important influences on the formation and development of our brains. Humans have a deep-rooted link with nature. This link is genetically anchored in us.

Indoor living is a relatively recent development, emerging since the industrial revolution. It has brought us many benefits: it protects against weather and potential dangers, offers convenience and comfort, with access to modern amenities and technology such as electricity, internet, and computers. We have become predominantly indoor beings, losing our connection with nature in the process. Today, 90% of our time is spent indoors. With a lack of natural light, movement, good air quality, social interactions, and an increased use of screens.

As designers of buildings and urban space, we ask ourselves the question: how can we integrate nature and living systems into our designs? In other words: how do we become doctors or restorers of our artificial environment?

Biophilia, literally love for life or living organisms, rekindles our genetic link with nature. Biophilic design reintroduces that link into the environments we design. More than the obligatory tree or shrub in a building, we create a symbiosis between nature and society so that we can enjoy the healing effect on body and mind, in our increasingly busy world.


By 2050, between 65% and 75% of the world’s population will live in cities.

Urbanization – Our World in Data

Hard Data

Biophilic design is more than a philosophy. It is an applied science that explores the relationship between humans and nature, and from those insights designs artificial environments. It is an interdisciplinary practice that impacts our physiological and mental health, cognitive functions, and the environment, socially and economically.

Measurement equates to knowledge. Data show that biophilic design reduces absenteeism, increases staff retention, accelerates patient turnover, and lowers crime rates. These statistics translate to increased revenue per room for care institutions and enhanced property value for buildings. Biophilic-designed offices can increase productivity to the extent that the benefits outweigh the operational costs and rent.

Nature in all its forms

Nature can inspire the built environment in multiple ways:

  • Direct integration of nature is the most obvious, with the introduction of greenery, animals, daylight, views of nature, water, and fresh air.
  • Architecture can also mimic nature, with organic shapes, natural materials and textures, color, and the perception of time.
  • Finally, an artificial environment can integrate natural stimuli by using spaces in diverse ways: spaces that offer shelter, a view of the surrounding area that evokes a sense of mystery or even danger, or places that invite the user to exploration and adventure.

It all seems obvious. Nonetheless, biophilia is only recently making a comeback in the design and construction world.

Biophilic design and regenerative architecture are an invitation to restore our relationship with nature. Where the spaces in which we live, work, and play encourage us to flourish.

Liesbeth Reekmans, innovation manager

From Ego Architecture to Eco Architecture

This rediscovered symbiosis with nature, in turn, cultivates a new development: regenerative architecture. In this field, it is no longer sufficient to minimize the impact of a building on its environment. The most common certification systems such as BREEAM, Living Building Challenge, WELL, and LEED reflect various sustainability ambitions, towards architecture where we do less harm. Regenerative architecture allows us to explore how a building can make a positive contribution to the living and working environment. With biophilic design, we take steps towards regenerative architecture.

Sweco considers biophilic design and regenerative architecture as an invitation to restore our relationship with nature. Where the spaces in which we live, work, and play encourage us to flourish. Our experts strive in each project to create environments that are ecologically responsible, as well as aesthetically satisfying and psychologically supportive. We believe that a harmonious relationship between our built environment and the natural world is essential for the future prosperity of our society. Sweco is committed to shaping this future together with customers and partners.