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A Wonderful World: Biophilia and Biophilic Design

Since the onset of industrialization, nature and the built environment have never experienced what you would call a harmonious relationship. For the longest time, the first casualty in the march of human progress has been the natural world. We've all seen the pictures of polar bears floating on shrinking ice floes, of pelicans drenched in black oil. The industry of the built environment has had a similarly blackmarked history. As humans built upwards, downwards, and outwards, forests have been cleared, mountains have been defaced, and rivers have been polluted. The most recognizable icon of pollution is an architectural product--a factory with its smokestack belching noxious fumes.

Thankfully, recent architectural upheavals are answering the call to overhaul that image. For instance, Sustainable design seeks to reduce the environmental impact of the built environment, while improving the health and comfort of the occupants. This design philosophy has gained massive traction all over the world. There's also green architecture, a design direction that attempts to minimize a building carbon footprint by using eco-friendly building materials and and construction practices. Endorsed by local and international architecture organizations and coalitions, green architecture has been fully integrated into the construction and design of many newer buildings. Regenerative architecture, coined by Ar. Ronnie Yumang, moves past nature conservation to nature replenishment, weaving intricate natural biomes into the built environment to provide shelter and food for neighboring fauna.

Then there's biophilic design. Biophilic design appeals to man's affinity and biological connection to nature. The root word, "biophilia" is defined as a desire to commune with nature, and this desire is something embedded in the human psyche. If you've ever felt restored an afternoon stroll through a park, or felt awe at the majestic panorama on top of a mountain--that's biophilia.

Fostering this connection is one of the primary goals of biophilic design. An abundance of artificial structures--no matter how beautifully designed—can feel cold and impersonal. Biophilic design has a fundamental understanding of man's connection with nature, and fosters that connection through water features, scents, sounds, landscaping, among other techniques.

In this new world of lockdowns and at- home work, our outdoors time has been severely limited due to the necessity of social distancing. Biophilic design is becoming more and more essential, even as we sequester ourselves within the safety of our homes. This is the reason why hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have taken up gardening, not just as a mechanism against boredom, but as an unconscious way to tap into our primal desire to connect with the natural world.

One Montage Cebu by Cubesystem (Left) Image by Yumang Design Studio/Joya Properties (Right)

See Them Bloom

In the world of architecture and design, there are several titans leading the charge for biophilic design. One of which Cubesystem and its CEO, Ar. Rowland Agullana. Featured multiple times in the pages of D+C, Cubesystems credentials can be found in cities all over the Philippines. An artist at creating green walls--both natural and artificial--Cubesystem and Ar. Agullana have overhauled the concept of a building, opting instead to simply think of it like a tree. The addition of the green wall or vertical garden will allow the building to produce energy, create habitat, and cleanse and store rainwater in an environmentally and aesthetically pleasing manner.

Their sheer skill at creating vertical gardens and green walls allowed them to make their leafy mark on several malls around the Philippines. The Podium, for instance, has been given a complete floric makeover. What was once stone and glass is now an automatically-irrigated facade of varying shades of green. Opting for a slotted look, the One Montage is a viridian oasis in the otherwise gray metropolis of Cebu City.

Aside from the aesthetic value of such buildings, the greenwall also provides a massive reduction of the heat island effect. The average pedestrian will feel less of the stifling ambient heat of the city while breathing the clean air cycled by the green wall's plants. The canopy of green also lessens the operational costs of the building. With the green wall catching the heat and light of the sun, it significantly reduces cooling and air conditioning costs of the building. A seemingly simple addition to a building's facade, the greenwall captures the essence of biophilic design: connecting the space's residents to nature whilst providing long term benefits to physical and mental wellness.

The addition of the

green wall or vertical

garden will allow the

building to produce

energy, create habitat,

and cleanse and

store rainwater in an

environmentally and

aesthetically pleasing


Trees of Green

Biophilic design affects not just a building's outward appearance, but also its foundations. A relative newcomer in the building industry, cross-laminated timber is showing itself as a versatile and eco-friendly material in construction and design. Like other biophilic techniques, cross-laminated timber, or CLT, attempts to provide a simple solution to a pre-existing problem: deforestation. Wood has always been an effective and aesthetic building material, but old growth wood is now becoming more

difficult to source. And due to irresponsible deforestation, there are now serious ethical questions in using good wood in construction. Thankfully, CLT fills the need for wood-based building material while our country's forests stay pristine.

Cross-laminated timber is a wood panel

product made from gluing together layers of solid- sawn lumber, i.e., lumber cut from a single log.

The glue and the perpendicular orientation of the adjacent layers strengthen the wood, allowing it to achieve better structural integrity in both directions. Unlike plywood, which is produced similarly, CLT features thicker layers, making it more effective and flexible as a building material. Cross-laminated timber is not just a flashy new trend. Due to the simplicity of the manufacturing, the process of making CLT requires much less energy than forging steel or producing concrete.

Gardens by the Bay Marina / Photo by Justin Lim via Unsplash

Additionally, it does not produce any greenhouse gasses. Compare this to the production of concrete that generates 2.4 tons of CO2 per ton of concrete. CLT is also quite fire resistant. Despite it being wood, the density of the wood panels allows it to burn much more slowly, transmitting heat 250 times slower than melting steel or 10 times slower than concrete that warps and cracks under intense heat. Because of its lightness, building foundations need not be so large and the machinery required to move them are usually on the smaller side. It can also be prefabricated off site, leading to lower overall construction costs.

Airport Boulevard, Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore / Photo by Rita Chou via Unsplash

Rooftop terrace at Mjøstårnet / Image from

Norway, known for its industry- forward practices, boasts of the Mjøstårnet, currently the world's tallest timber building.

Backed by an array of scientific journals and technical research, all CLT really needs to fully thrive as a building material is a chance. It's a relatively new material, so not many manufacturers are making it. And because of the building industry's reliance on sure-fire methods, it will take a while before the material hits its stride. But once it does, it can very well be the material of the future. Norway, known for its industry-forward practices, boasts of the Mjøstårnet, currently the world's tallest timber building. Dalston Lane in the UK is the largest CLT project globally, at 4,649 cubic meters.

Photo by Victor Garcia via Unsplash

For Me and You

As humans, we have been placed in this world and assigned the role of its caretakers. But for most of history, we have been its exploiters. Its predators. Its parasites. We have tamed the wilderness and used its trees for our fuel, its animals for our clothes and shoes, and its soil to build our homes. But how has the wilderness benefited from us? Biophilic design is an effort to answer this question. It not only shows us that it's possible to coexist with the world we have once subjugated, in doing so we receive myriad benefits to our health, comfort, and security.

Biophilia, at its very core, is a kind of love, and when you love something, you become responsible for it. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once penned in the beautiful and enduring novella, The Little Prince, "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” In our folly and selfishness, we have forgotten this truth, but no longer. D+C


WORDS: John Ravino Duanan

IMAGES: Unsplash,

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