Using Biophilia for Healing

Biophilic design speeds recovery rates, reduces stress and decreases dependency on medication.

By Becky Mollenkamp
November 22, 2022

Keeping a healthcare facility clean and sterile is important, but that does not mean it must feel cold and uninviting. In fact, the austere look of many hospitals might hinder the healing process. 

A growing body of research shows impressive benefits of biophilic design, the incorporation of natural elements into a building’s interior and exterior spaces.  

Most impressive is the tie between biophilia and improved patient outcomes, including faster recovery rates, decreased dependency on medication and improved emotional wellness. A study found biophilia reduced hospital stays by one day, which could save $93 million nationwide each year

“Biophilia reduces stress, and reduced stress contributes to faster healing,” says Dennis J. Kowal, principal at Dennis Kowal Architects. “Since state of mind is an important factor in the healing process, it makes sense to design healing environments to reduce stress as much as possible.” 

The benefits also extend to the workforce. Biophilic design lowers stress, reduces absences and turnover, improves job satisfaction and increases focus and productivity, all of which can save employers up to $1,000 per employee per year

Ideally, a facility includes biophilic design from the start by adding gardens, courtyards and lots of windows throughout the healthcare campus.  

It does not take much work or budget for existing buildings to also reap some benefit of biophilia, Kowal says. Incorporating even small elements can improve health outcomes and costs. 

“Some fear there is a cost to add these features, but owners, leaders and investors are realizing that healthy buildings increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and speed healing,” Kowal says. 

The most impactful elements are plants, water and natural light. Facility managers can consider adding potted plants, water features and aquariums, as well as reorienting furniture to allow more views outside from inside the building. 

The highest priority for these efforts should be patient rooms, followed by communal spaces such as reception areas, waiting rooms, cafeterias and corridors. 

While direct exposure to natural elements is most effective, studies have also found measurable health benefits from representations of nature. 

Kowal says managers can hang nature-inspired photos or artwork, selecting materials with natural materials such as wood and stone, or patterns  such as leaves and flowers, sticking to nature-inspired colors, and choosing furniture with organic rather than geometric shapes.  

“In one of our projects, we used a sustainable wall covering that looked and felt like rough sawn wood,” Kowal says. “This provided a tactile and visual reference for the occupant in an otherwise windowless corridor.” 

One experiment even revealed that blood donors who watched a wall-mounted television playing a nature video had lower blood pressure and pulse rates than those who did not. 

Any effort to make a healthcare facility feel warmer and more natural will better serve its patients, staff and community, not to mention its bottom line. 

“It is time to create more healing environments where buildings, through intentional design, participate in the healing process,” Kowal says. 

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. 

See the latest posts on our homepage Share

Topic Area: Sustainable Operations

Recent Posts
Recent Posts

Why Proper Lawncare Matters for Healthcare Facilities

There are a multitude of factors that go into proper lawncare, even for healthcare facilities.


Community Health Systems Experiences Security Incident

The incident was through Fortra, a cybersecurity that Community Health Systems contracts with.


Singing River Health System Buyer Selected

A final agreement is expected to be reached by this fall.


Paint Choices Facilities Managers Should Prioritize First

Designers can give insight on how certain paint choices can improve workflow and improve patient wellness.


Texas Vista Medical Center to Close in May

Nearly one quarter of patients do not pay for services the hospital provides.



News & Updates • Webcast Alerts • Building Technologies

All fields are required.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

You Might Like