The History of Biophilic Lighting and Its Impact Today

By Torrin Greathouse | May 16, 2017

While biophilia has gained popularity recently as an industry buzzword, the idea actually has a longer history. Similarly to daylighting, the idea and practice of biophilic lighting and design has evolved over time as we have gained new understanding and innovated more advanced technologies.

A Brief History

While biophilia was originally coined by philosopher Erich Fromm in 1964, meaning “the passionate love of life and all that is alive,” it was popularized by American conservationist Edward O. Wilson in 1984 as the idea that because humans are genetically hard-wired to nature, we function far better when we exist with a connection to it. New evidence emerges every day to support this hypothesis, and because of this, a unique branch of design has sprung up.  biophilic design involves bringing natural elements such as water, plants, fresh air, and natural sunlight into your building.

Even before this terminology caught on, we began to see a shift in building design in the late -1960s into the 1970s. During this time natural lighting methods and interior green spaces became more popular. In 1972, Everett Conklin—a prominent horticulturist and designer—published the paper “Man and Plants: a Primal Association.” While this predates the formulation of biophilia as a design principle, it established principles of humanistic design that have carried on till today.

While biophilic lighting and design have existed in the background since then, they began to pick up in popularity in the late 2010s, and are still continuing to gain support today.

Biophilic Lighting Today

As biophilic technology has improved, so have the benefits that it can provide, as well as our understanding of what these benefits are. Exposure to natural stimuli, such as sunlight, throughout the day can reduce stress levels and slow building occupants’ resting heart rates. This has been shown to speed up hospital recovery times, as well as increasing mental acuity. Well-integrated biophilic daylighting has been proven to increase productivity by 6-16%. Beyond this, biophilia is shown to have a drastic positive effect on human health, aiding in the prevention of conditions including rickets, prediabetes, multiple sclerosis, and seasonal affective disorder.

Modern biophilic lighting is also far more efficient than older methods. High-quality skylights and specially coated windows are capable of admitting higher levels of light without glare, and better maintaining a comfortable interior temperature. The best skylights are capable of providing up to 10.5+ hours of healthy, natural light, almost twice the amount that traditional designs could provide. This increase in usable lighting can minimize artificial lighting usage by 50-80%, drastically reducing a facility’s reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, it contributes to a rapid ROI of just 2-4.5 years, allowing you to more rapidly invest in other biophilic design elements.

To learn more about the potential benefits of biophilic natural lighting, download our eBook The Power of Daylighting Systems in Building Design.

(Photo: Lex McKee, CC.)
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