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3 Books and 1 Emerging, Ancient Field

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

3 Books and 1 Emerging, Ancient Field

In light of recent developments in artificial intelligence — acknowledging that computer programs can now create art, music, and literature — it is comforting and invigorating to center ourselves in the essence of our humanity, which reaches far deeper than the creation of things...

Book 1

Biophilia is the work of evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, published in 1984, in which he posited “that our natural affinity for life—biophilia—is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species.”(1)

Book 2 

Building on the biophilia hypothesis, social ecology professor Stephen Kellert wrote Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection among other works, and “pioneered the concept of biophilic design, an emerging field that promotes improved health and wellbeing by creating connections between people and nature in the built environment.”(2)

Book 3 

In Creating Biophilic Buildings, author Amanda Sturgeon presents case studies of buildings designed recently with biophilic elements and attributes. But, as Sturgeon reminds us, “it is not a new practice.” (3)

While some may describe biophilic design as an emerging field in the 21st century, biophilic principles have been utilized for millennia. In a sense, we are emerging now from the dark ages of built environments into a renaissance through biophilic design, which both requires and delivers verve and vitality. It is a virtuous cycle, which turns as most do: on life-affirming choices, habits, coherency, generosity. 

Kellert’s framework of “Biophilic Design Elements and Attributes” referenced by Sturgeon, is a coherent, generous list from which we can make choices and set healthier patterns and programs in motion. There are many polished pieces, ready to set into place, but let us remember that there are also treasures to be (re)discovered. With that thought in mind, one case study that resonates strongly in Creating Biophilic Buildings is the David & Lucile Packard Foundation office in northern California – as it expresses one of the “lesser known” design elements and attributes: age, change, and the patina of time.

Age, Change, and the Patina of Time (Natural Patterns + Processes)

Natural materials used for the building include stone, copper, glass, and wood (specifically, Western red cedar and Douglas-fir from Oregon), and, as Sturgeon spells it out, “the building exterior, too, will mark the passage of time, as the copper develops a pleasing patina and the Western red cedar siding weathers.” 

This description along with the visuals provided brings up vividly: the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest forests, being barefoot outdoors, the first time I heard the term patina (when getting married, in reference to how wedding rings change subtly over the years, faithfully etched with subtle impressions from an individual’s life), and thoughts about who may reflect on the patina of objects and built environments — imbued with love and respect — hundreds of years from now. 

So shall we make space for the patina of time to inspire the places we make.

With biophilic design, we align to affect the quality of the built environment, and the quality of the day.❀


(1) Harvard University Press | Wilson, E.O. Biophilia, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1984

(2) Remembering Stephen Kellert

(3) Sturgeon, Amanda. Creating Biophilic Buildings, Seattle, WA.: Ecotone Publishing, 2017

Feature photo by Jacob Colvin

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