All You Need to Know About Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is a transformative approach that revolutionizes our perception of living and working spaces. By seamlessly integrating elements of the natural world, this innovative design creates aesthetically pleasing environments that foster mental well-being and a profound sense of connectedness. From lush indoor plants to natural light and organic materials, biophilic design taps into our instinctive bond with nature, offering a unique and inspiring design philosophy.

As urbanization continues to surge, the relevance and urgency of biophilic design become even more pronounced. This design approach surroundings not just a trend; it’s a response to our evolutionary need for a connection with the natural world. Particularly in residential architecture, where fostering a connection to nature can significantly enhance the quality of life, biophilic design is a crucial and timely solution. By focusing on historically advanced human health elements, this design philosophy encourages an ongoing relationship between people and their environments, making it a vital tool in our urbanized world.

Ready to explore biophilic design’s principles and potential future? This article will explore how this concept can transform residential and office spaces, enhancing your quality of life.

Understanding Biophilic Design

understanding biophilic design

The interior biophilic design integrates natural elements into built environments, fostering the human-nature connection to improve well-being and productivity. Weaving nature into our daily spaces brings physical and psychological benefits.

Core Principles and Elements of Biophilic Design

Biophilic interior design is structured around six key elements, each focusing on different ways to infuse nature into built spaces. These principles, as outlined by social ecologist Stephen Kellert, include:

  • Nature in the Space: Directly integrating natural elements like plants, water, and animals. Examples include indoor greenery, decorative water features, and views of nature.
  • Natural Analogues: Materials and patterns that mimic natural forms in design. Wood patterns, natural interior stone, or floral motifs are typical applications.
  • Nature of the Space: Creating environments that evoke the spatial qualities of nature, such as open spaces or nooks. Courtyards and large windows transparently transition into open or sheltered exterior living experiences.
  • Light and Space: Utilizing natural light and shadow to create dynamic atmospheres. Light wells, skylights, and expansive windows enhance this experience. The color temperature of a light source plays a crucial role in shaping the ambiance and appearance of a room or environment.
  • Place-Based Relationships: Designing with a sense of local identity and ecological belonging. Environmentally sensitive design features include native plants, locally quarried stone, or bricks made from regional clay.
  • Evolved Human-Nature Relationships: Recognizing our emotional and physical responses to biophilic design. Spaces that foster tranquility or stimulate our senses exemplify this element.

Understanding these principles helps designers create environments that are not only visually appealing but also support human health and well-being, and SRI Architect can provide expert guidance on effectively applying these principles to your project.

Benefits of Biophilic Design

Health and Well-Being Improvements

Maximizing natural light can balance circadian rhythms, aiding sleep and overall health. Ventilating with fresh and filtered air creates a healthier indoor environment, reducing indoor air pollutants. Using natural materials minimizes toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lowering the risks of indoor air pollution. Implementing biophilic design in hospitals has been shown to speed up patient recovery times. Enhanced recovery and reduced stress are direct outcomes of nature-connected spaces.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability

Biophilic design aims to connect buildings with the natural environment, promoting sustainability. Integrating plants and green spaces helps urban areas combat pollution and enhance biodiversity. Using sustainable, recycled, and low-impact materials reduces construction’s carbon footprint. These efforts support environmental conservation while fostering connections with nature. Traditional design focuses on human comfort, often neglecting ecological impacts. Biophilic design corrects this by emphasizing nature-centric principles.

Economic Advantages

Incorporating biophilic design can also be economically advantageous. Buildings with biophilic elements can improve employee productivity and reduce absenteeism. These benefits result in higher work output and efficiency. Additionally, properties with biophilic features often see increased market value and attract premium rent rates. Reduced health costs, increased property values, and higher workplace productivity contribute to economic gains. For example, a study by the University of Oregon found that employees in offices with views of nature took fewer sick days, resulting in significant cost savings for the company.

Examples of Biophilic Design in Practice

Residential and Commercial Spaces

Residential and commercial spaces provide various opportunities for biophilic design applications. Large fenestrations, indoor plant living walls, and natural materials can create a more harmonious home environment. For instance, skylights and expansive windows allow abundant natural light, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting and enhancing circadian rhythms.

Biophilic design can improve employee well-being and productivity in commercial spaces like offices. Green walls, natural wood finishes, and water features can create visually pleasing and calming environments. For example, adding green walls improves air quality and provides employees with a more refreshing work atmosphere. Additionally, integrating natural light through light shelves and reflective surfaces can enhance the biophilic experience without significant renovations.

Urban Development Projects

Urban development projects also benefit from biophilic design by creating green public spaces and sustainable infrastructure. Cities like Singapore have embraced the concept by integrating sustainable building practices such as green roofs, vertical gardens, and urban parks. Singapore’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is a prime example of a hospital that has applied biophilic design principles. The hospital features garden terraces and water features that create a healing environment for patients, manage rainwater, and promote biodiversity.

Another example is the Prisma building in Nürnberg, Germany. Designer Herbert Dreiseitls incorporated sculptural water walls into the structure as a thermal control device and a visual or acoustic element in the atrium. This integration enhances the space’s environmental quality and provides occupants with a multisensory experience.

By implementing these biophilic design strategies, urban areas can become more livable, promote well-being, and contribute to environmental sustainability.

Challenges and Criticisms of Biophilic Design

biophilic design ranch pros and cons

Addressing Common Concerns

Biophilic design incorporates natural elements into built environments to promote well-being and connection with nature. While its holistic benefits are evident, several common concerns arise. One primary issue is the cost. Implementing features like self-sustaining green walls, adding windows and doors for natural lighting, and locally produced organic materials can be expensive compared to conventional designs. Another challenge is the maintenance of these natural elements, which requires regular care and attention. However, these challenges can be overcome with proper planning and budgeting, and the long-term benefits of biophilic design often outweigh the initial costs.

Another concern involves maintenance. Natural elements require regular upkeep. For instance, live plants need proper care to thrive indoors, and annual wood maintenance and water features demand continuous attention to avoid malfunctions or hygiene issues.

Additionally, biophilic design may not fit every architectural style or geographic location. Cities with limited green space or regions with harsh climates might need help seamlessly integrating natural elements. This raises practical concerns about how universally applicable biophilic design can be across different environments.

Overcoming Design and Implementation Challenges

Despite these concerns, strategic approaches can overcome design and implementation challenges. Prioritizing biophilic elements that provide the most significant advantages can help manage costs. Arranging furniture to create views of existing outdoor greenery can be an economical way to incorporate biophilic design into a space. Introducing nature-inspired artwork and patterns can be a budget-friendly approach to bringing biophilic principles into a space.

Selecting low-maintenance plants and installing automated systems for water features can mitigate maintenance challenges. Integrating biophilic features during the initial design phase can streamline their incorporation, reducing long-term costs and complications.

Customizing biophilic elements to fit the local environment ensures practical and effective designs. In urban areas with limited space, vertical gardens or rooftop greenery can offer biophilic benefits without requiring large ground areas. For those exploring mountain home ideas, integrating natural materials and expansive views can enhance the connection to nature. Using climate-appropriate plants and materials in regions with extreme climates ensures that biophilic features are sustainable and resilient.

Biophilic design can be adapted to various settings to address these challenges, making it a feasible and beneficial approach to improving human health and promoting environmental sustainability.


Biophilic design is more than just a trend; it’s a transformative approach that redefines how we interact with our surroundings. Integrating natural elements into various settings fosters a deeper connection with nature and enhances overall well-being. From residential homes to urban landscapes, the principles of biophilic design offer practical and sustainable solutions for creating healthier and more harmonious environments. As cities and buildings increasingly adopt these practices, the potential for improved mental health and environmental sustainability becomes ever more attainable. Embracing biophilic design is a step towards a more balanced and fulfilling way of living.



Emily Warren, AIA, NCARB

Emily is celebrated for her insightful commentary and technical expertise. As a licensed architect with over a decade of professional experience, Emily boasts a rich background that spans high-end design, historic documentation, and sustainable development. She honed her skills with the National Park Service’s Historic Documentation Programs, mastering complex projects completed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Emily’s work is distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a passion for advancing architectural knowledge. Her leadership and teaching capabilities, demonstrated by her guidance of interns and management of multimillion-dollar projects, underscore her commitment to fostering growth and excellence within the architectural community. Emily’s compelling narratives and technical prowess make her an invaluable voice in the field as she continues to inspire readers with her dedication and vision.

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Charlotte R. DeChant



As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.

Douglas M. DeChant

Founding Partner/Principal


Architecture is more than a profession for Doug, our principal designer; it is a calling, understood since childhood. While a modernist at heart, his work reflects the necessary context of each setting and the voice of each client. He trained in the program of modernist and former Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, at Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago. After working throughout the nation and overseas, Doug settled in Vail in 1985, where he met his wife, Charlotte. Together they founded the practice in 1989 and have enjoyed raising four amazing children.

Doug’s service has included the Eagle County, Colorado, Planning Commission; the faculty of the Byron Fellowship, an annual sustainable communities conference; panelist at the Summit for Creativity in La Jolla sponsored by The Design Futures Council; participation in local design review boards; youth sports coaching; and various lay-leadership positions in his church. In 2004, he conceived ‘Benevolent Architecture’, a proprietary service offering low-cost or no-cost architecture and consulting to worthy ministries and non-profits.  In 2005, Doug began to develop an intimate, artistic retreat and conference venue, Wellspring Ranch, LLC, relocating and restoring several historic Colorado structures upon a remarkable property outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and has been licensed in numerous states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He finds balance in guitar, sculpture, hiking, snowshoeing, golf and crafting various elements of his retreat venue. 

Tom Bashford


Tom, one of our most valued, gifted leaders, passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Together with his joyful spirit and hilarious dry wit, he enhanced our studio with a wealth of design and management experience. Tom will never be replaced. He was the type of person, father, leader, and mentor to which we all aspire, and the fruit of his efforts will live on, in his son, in us, and in our projects.

Pam, Peraya Mongkolwongrojn


Peraya, Pam, is originally from Bangkok, Thailand, where she first became interested in Architecture from the rich spatial environment.  She explored Canada before moving to the States to pursue her passion for architecture. Pam went to the University of Arizona to earn a Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. During school, she energized a passion for the arts and drawing. 

In her free time, Pam enjoys exploring the great outdoors, hiking through Colorado’s scenic landscapes, and finding inspiration for her designs in nature. With a keen eye for detail and a creative approach to problem-solving, Pam has been involved in many of our custom residential homes. Her passion for the arts and drawing has influenced her design style, which incorporates elements of beauty and functionality. Pam’s commitment to excellence and her love for architecture make her a dedicated professional who strives to make a difference through her work.

As she continues to grow and learn in her field, Pam remains devoted to creating innovative spaces that enrich people’s lives and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

Brett Lehr

Project Manager

Brett is a designer with a unique blend of expertise, holding an undergraduate degree in Media Arts from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an M.Arch degree from the University of Nebraska. His diverse educational background has ignited a passion for utilizing realistic virtual environments to enhance the efficiency, enjoyment, and overall success of architectural design processes.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Brett finds joy in a variety of hobbies, including snow skiing, biking, fly fishing, golf, and hiking. Embracing the scenic wonders of the Vail Valley, he has found the perfect lifestyle fit, drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.

Laurie Baggott


Our studio is fortunate to have Laurie bring her considerable experience in business and finance to our daily operations. Among her many administrative responsibilities, she manages accounting, payroll and invoicing for us. When not busy here or as a private chef, she avidly hikes in our beautiful summers and snowshoes in the winter.

Patricia Marcine


Earning her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 2016 was just the beginning. From there, Trish headed to Europe, to study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and work at the Aedes Architekturforum. Then she determined it was time to return to the Rocky Mountains. We became beneficiaries of her delightful, collaborative spirit when she joined our studio in early 2018. Her savvy technical support and inspired design voice enhance each project, while her design comprehension and growth demonstrate that she has a future with much to offer the profession. As a lifelong artist, Trish’s search for a practical art form and meaningful profession has been fulfilled by custom residential architecture, where “…not a day truly feels like work.”

Trish grew up in Northern New Jersey, playing club and varsity soccer, enjoying ski club with friends, and learning to snowboard at a young age. As a teen, she competed in various equestrian events, highlighted by working for Frank and Mary Chapot to train Olympic-level show jumpers. Eventually, faster hobbies were necessary, and Trish became a driving instructor for the SCCA and track-day rider on her CBR600RR. She’s also been an enthusiastic racer on our company’s ‘ski team’. When a new project surfaces, she’s pleased to slow down enough to collaborate with the team.

Emily Warren


Emily joined us from the DC area, lured by the mountains, our core values and our creative environment. She earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture degrees from SUNY Buffalo’s School of Architecture & Planning, with a minor in Earth System Science.

Through her wonderfully infectious spirit, Emily eagerly contributes diverse knowledge and experience, having worked on historic National Park Service documentation, and urban high-density residential projects facing strict constraints. She is a productive and dedicated team player who thrives through learning and contributing to the growth of others. Her detail, project management and organizational skills are exceptional. Emily is licensed in Maryland, and nationally accredited by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Emily is passionate about youth empowerment, with considerable experience teaching and mentoring in schools and camps. She’s an ardent weightlifter, hiker and nature enthusiast, embracing the Vail Valley’s active, outdoor lifestyle.

Cam Frey


Cam was introduced to Colorado’s rivers and mountains at an early age, returning annually from Michigan with his family to fly-fish and hike near the small mining town of Creede. His interest in design and architecture was ignited by his high school drafting teacher, who instilled a balanced approach to design through technology and craft. Cam received his BA from UNC, Chapel Hill, followed by a few years of medical research before heading West to earn his Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon. There he became interested in the interdisciplinary study of Biomimicry; an approach to solving design problems by looking to nature. Not coincidentally, this interest, the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and outdoor lifestyle led Cam back to Colorado in 2014. He joined us in 2017, quickly becoming a central piece of our culture and project management structure.

Cam serves on the Design Review Committee of the Arrowhead at Vail community, is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and licensed Architect in the state of Colorado.

His other pursuits include fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, and a good game of euchre…, and the list continues to grow. He is married to a wonderfully talented children’s book illustrator, and dotes on his young son.

Ben Marion


From an early age, Ben had a pen in hand and a curiosity for exploring both natural and built environments. Much of his adolescence was spent drawing what he observed, balanced with his passions for cross-country skiing the New England forests and playing soccer as far away as Europe. Like many of us, Ben arrived in Colorado as an adult, following a lifelong passion to further pursue the resort lifestyle. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he practiced with some of the finest architects and builders in the region, creating fine homes and other structures. His broad experience includes California mountain resort homes, as well as mixed-use and commercial structures, peppered with an interesting mix of furniture building and construction. In our studio, Ben is a strong design voice and outstanding project manager, leading by quiet example as he mentors our emerging leaders.

Ben remains passionate about skiing and soccer, coaching both youth sports locally. Travel remains in his blood as he and his family explore the west in their vintage 1967 camper.

Bert Willemse


Bert found a home away from home in the Vail Valley while exploring North America’s most beautiful landscapes on a post-graduation road trip…, from his hometown of Bellvale, New York to Wasilla, Alaska. He had completed his studies at SUNY Buffalo and apprenticed with two well-known firms in New York’s Hudson Valley area before joining our studio. As the son of a general contractor Bert gained practical construction knowledge with hands-on experience in the field. His many professional attributes are exceeded only by his wonderful, collaborative spirit.

Naturally, Bert is an active individual who embraces hiking, biking and skiing in our amazing Colorado mountains.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principal

After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1994 and working as an intern for three years at Fujikawa Johnson and Associates in Chicago, Adam packed his van and toured America to determine where he might settle; he found Vail and Shepherd Resources in September of 1997. After growing from intern to project manager to associate, Adam began transitioning into ownership in 2017 and became a principal owner in early 2020. As a dedicated designer, Adam loves collaborating with his fellow architects and interns while managing a busy studio.

His priorities are rooted in sustainability, strong leadership skills, and staff mentoring to uphold the core values of the practice. He is licensed in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina and serves as the chairman of the Red Sky Ranch Design Review Board. Adam enjoys golf, mountain biking, skiing, music, and any activity involving his daughter Bellalee. Adam has been practicing for a quarter century and looks forward to designing and collaborating for another quarter century; the opportunity to doodle a quick sketch, with the future opportunity of walking through such a doodle fuels his creativity and passion for design.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principle

As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.