Biophilic design in the travel industry

“Biophilic design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing.”


Biophilic design may sound complex but when described as “humankind’s innate biological connection with nature” (Terrapin Report – 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design), the art of putting it into practice in the design process somehow feels elemental.

Quite simply the design process should be at one with nature to help build responsible tourism.

The Terrapin Reportis cutting edge research set out to improve health and wellbeing in the built environment. To achieve this the world-leading environmental consulting firm, Terrapin Bright Green, encourage a visual connection with nature. “Interiors that use natural materials, plants, lighting and other sensory design elements to give the user an experience that energises, refreshes, and connects”.

The more the world urbanises, the greater need to physically and mentally reconnect with nature. Biophilic design brings science and the humanities together. It places the practice of architecture at an intersection with biology, physics and psychology.

Travel too should reduce stress, enhance creativity and improve our well-being. It’s therefore not surprising that the travel and hospitality industries are dipping their toes into these design practices.

Biophilic Design in airports

Look no further than the multi award-winning Jewel at Changi Airport in Singapore. Designed to bring an abundance of nature into a commercial space, Jewel asserts the airport as vibrant and uplifting. Design features were conceptualised by Safdie Architects and include the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, as well as the 40-metre-tall Rain Vortex, and a five-story plant-filled greenhouse. Combined with natural light and plants the soothing sound of water purifies the air, boosts immunity, and has a positive effect on the mind.

But this isn’t Singapore’s first foray into biophilic design. The country paves the way. In 1967, then Prime Minister – the late Lee Kuan Yew – dubbed Singapore City as ‘The Garden City’, and ‘green building’ has been mandatory in Singapore since 2008. Marina Bay and Gardens by the Bay are the hub of the city today and bring Kuan Yew’s vision to life.

Biophilic design in city hotels

Biophilic design encourages the blending of buildings into their environment. Parkroyal Collection Pickering is a trailblazer on the hotel scene. Many hotel chains give a nod to nature in design but few take on board the key concepts of biophilic design as a way of life. Recognised as the ‘World’s Leading Green City Hotel’ at the World Travel Awards, Parkroyal Collection Pickering’s unique concept seamlessly weaves 15,000 square metres of greenery into a zero-energy skygarden across the hotels facade. The hotel draws inspiration from the adjacent Hong Lim Park and incorporates the same plants as well as a waterfall and hanging vines. It is an oasis within the city’s busy business district.

Parkroyal Collection’s Singapore-based architects, Woha, were inspired by Bali’s paddy fields to “conserve greenery in a built-up high-rise city centre” . But also to “multiply it in a manner that is architecturally striking, integrated and sustainable”. The second hotel to join Pickering under the brand is Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay (formerly Marina Mandarin) which has recently undergone a biophilic transformation. Watch this space for more.

Singapore is not alone with it’s biophilic design objectives as more city scapes – and the people within them – begin to crave nature’s good stuff. Cut to New York.

Even the city that never sleeps has come to realise that everyone needs a little downtime, and how better to take respite from the chaos of Manhattan than reconnecting with nature. Head across the East River – our suggestion is by boat – to Brooklyn’s upscale Dumbo. On the waterfront here you’ll find 1 Hotel Brookyln Bridge. Its vast windows and roof top terrace absorb expansive river views, natural light, surrounding greenery, and parkland. Marvel Architects and New York-based interiors firm INC designed the hotel to ‘bring the outside in’. Thirty foot high ceilings give the illusion of still being outside. Add a statement living-wall in the central gathering space, natural textures of wood, linen and leather, scattered vegetation and calming natural scents. You’ll soon feel the benefits of biophilic design.

Biophilic design challenges in a non-urban environment

Outside cities it’s somewhat easier to connect with nature. The challenge then, for biophilic design, is to minimise the impact on the living environment. New buildings in untouched spaces should be designed symbiotically with their surroundings, allowing wildlife and vegetation to weave around man-made structures.

Tierra Hotel Patagonia is one example. It showcases the biophilic design work of leading Chilean architects, Cazu Zegers, with interiors by Carolina Delpiano and Alexandra Edward. Located at the northern entrance of Torres del Paine National Park, the hotel is camouflaged into a barren stretch of land.

Set against the Paine mountain range guests are surrounded by the natural environment and distracted only by the sounds of the elements. ‘The hotel of the winds’; so-called because the hollow on which it sits was carved out of the sand by the wind – is dedicated to minimising its footprint and conserving its surroundings. The man-made structure, constructed mostly by lenga wood, locally sourced and typical of the region, blends into the dramatic backdrop in an elegant curve that complements the flow of its geological surroundings.

Step inside to experience furnishings and textiles handcrafted by Chilean artisans and the influence of the native Tehuelche people. The continued flow of natural wood emanates warmth in five-star comfort and the panoramic windows connect guests with the view they came for.

What benefit does biophilic design have for the travel industry?

Modern lives can be stressful. Much of our time is spent in built up cities, confined to offices, gyms and public transport. Understandably people are trying to integrate wellbeing practices into their daily lives. Time off has also become more sacred, and how we spend that time is to be maximised. As per Terrapin Bright Green’s Parkroyal case study, the positive mental and physical benefits provided by our interaction with nature include lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved mental engagement, a positive attitude and overall happiness.

All of which encourages bookings, increases interaction with public spaces, and result in repeat custom.

By Bethany Silcox

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