Nurtured by Nature

Biophilic design, ecopsychology and well-being redesigned
Image: DTJ Design

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

A growing body of studies indicates people are drawn to the subtle, yet powerful magnetism of nature, and for good cause. Time spent in nature benefits overall health and well-being in quantifiable ways. Builders, designers, architects, policymakers, employers, health experts and researchers are integrating humans’ innate need to connect with the natural world into their plans and designs. Call it ecopsychology or biophilia (or tree-hugging, for that matter), nourishing the relationship with the natural environment pays meaningful dividends for individuals, businesses and communities. Colorado builders are paying more attention than ever.

Designing in natural terms

Ecopsychology and biophilia are ways in which humans connect with nature.

Ecopsychology, according to Merriam-Webster, is: “of or relating to the environments of living things or to the relationships between living things and their environments.”

Biophilia is the term coined by the Harvard naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson to describe what he saw as humanity’s “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.” Biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within built environments and the communities in which they reside.

Harmony of connection with the environment

Both concepts bring connectivity between humans and nature. Since the 1950s, we have become increasingly disconnected with and less surrounded by nature. Whether stepping outdoors, or bringing about a sense of nature inside, the science behind cultivating that lost connection is strong. Perhaps that is why people now “bathe” in forests. Forest bathing and forest therapy (or Shinrin-yoku), according to the Global Wellness Institute, “broadly means taking in, in all of one’s senses, the forest atmosphere. It is a conscious and contemplative practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.”

Evidence-based studies – Why it matters for body, mind and spirit:


Living in greener, urban areas is associated with lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma hospitalization, mental distress, and ultimately, mortality.

According to the American Public Health Association’s policy statement on Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature, “Access to nature has been related to lower levels of mortality and illness, higher levels of outdoor physical activity, restoration from stress, a greater sense of well-being, and greater social capital. People evolved in natural environments, but urbanization, the industrialization of agriculture, and a shift to sedentary indoor lifestyles have distanced many people from nature, depriving them of the positive health benefits associated with natural light, green views, local biodiversity, natural landscapes, and gardens and parks near their homes, schools, and workplaces. Low-income and ethnic communities are most likely to lack these resources. A rapidly growing body of evidence establishes that protecting and restoring access to nature in different spheres of people’s lives, among those of all ages, social groups, and abilities, can alleviate some of the most important problems in public health, including obesity, stress, social isolation, injury, and violence.”


Nature heals the mind as well. According to Positive Psychology:

“Nature helps in emotional regulation and improves memory functions. A study on the cognitive benefits of nature found that subjects who took a nature walk did better on a memory test than the subjects who walked down the urban streets.

Nature walks benefit people suffering from depression. Studies had shown that people suffering from mild to major depressive disorders showed significant mood upliftments when exposed to nature. Not only that, but they also felt more motivated and energized to recover and get back to normalcy.

Recent investigations revealed that being outdoor reduces stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Nature walks and other outdoor activities build attention and focus. There are pieces of evidence that indicate strong environmental connections to be related to better performance, heightened concentration, and reduced chances of developing Attention Deficit Disorder.

A study at the University of Kansas found that spending more time outdoors and less time with our electronic devices can increase our problem-solving skills and improve creative abilities.”


Ever wonder why a stroll along the path brings about a sense of peace, calmness and relaxation?

“By staying close to nature,” states Positive Psychology, “We feel more grateful and appreciative of what it has to offer to us (Proshansky, 1976). Seeing the wonders of the world outside automatically fosters within us the urge to protect it.”

Breathing in nature gives us wholesome sensory awareness. When we spend time outdoors, we are more mindful of what we see, what we hear, what we smell, and what we feel. That translates into how we interact with others and the world.”

Creating an oasis in the city through biophilic design

It is no surprise that landscape designers are dutifully embracing the notion of bringing natural elements into manmade plans.

“This is where natural features integrate in the man-made world, and are the central heart of the place,” says Steven W. James, AIA and founding partner of DTJ Design. “(It) provides connectivity, and brings tranquility through light, water, and plant life, to foster wellness, and balance the stress of modern life.”

Biophilic design aims to provide a reprieve from urban life.


Image: DTJ Design

Valarie Johnson

Valarie is Editor-at-Large of Colorado Builder and has a 25-year, award-winning career as a publisher, editor and writer for local, regional, national and international publications. Valarie is a Colorado native and enjoys hiking, traveling, meditating, kayaking, yoga, reading and spending time with her husband and family. She can be reached at [email protected] or (303) 502-2523.

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