5 Senses of Biophilia

Biophilia is about allowing us to use all five senses to feel the natural world and humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. Let’s start by looking at the definition of biophilia. In 1984, Edward Wilson defined Biophilia as

“the innate affiliation people seek with other organisms and especially the natural world”

This is a powerful statement. As Wilson goes to speak about the human bond with other species. This suggests that Biophilia is an important emotional need to connect with nature and our natural surroundings.

Biophilic Design

Credit - DforDesignstyle, Orignal Source Muuto

By expressing our desire to connect with nature on an emotional level, we instinctively understand the concept. When being in natural places this makes us feel good for example when we visit the countryside or woodland, we instantly feel relaxed. So, by bringing the outdoors in to our built environments (homes, cities and offices) is a great way to create that response feeling of calm that is created when we are in the presence of nature.

However, connecting with nature isn’t just down to psychological and emotional need, but much more of a physiological need. This is where connecting with our 5 senses begins to make sense.

5 Senses of Biophilia

Credit - Pinterest

Humans use their eyes to look for food and threats, but did you know that sight is our most developed sense! Our colour perception enables us to spot shapes against a background and recognises when fruit and vegetables are ripe. Our hearing is fine-tuned to the sounds of nature such as running water. Our sense of touch helps us to determine the quality of materials and textures that we surround ourselves with. Our sense of smell helps guide us to what is safe to eat. Therefore, each of our senses are highly adaptive to the environment that we live in.

What has our 5 Senses got to do with Biophilic Design?

 Biophilic design is all about our greater well-being. Although most people associate Biophilic design with our emotional connection with nature as this is a more logical approach. At Harleen McLean Interiors, we believe that you can create more effective spaces through a sensory approach to design. When we stimulate our senses naturally, the benefits to creativity, productivity and psychological well-being flourish.

Shell Star Pavillion

Credit - MATSYS, 2012, Detour commissioned MATSYS for a pavilion that would serve as a social hub and center for their art and design festival held in Hong Kong.


Vision is our primary sense and allows us to have a perception of brightness, contrast, shape, colour, orientation, distance, movement and time of day. We are regularly scanning the environment and changing our focus. In order to stimulate our sense of sight in the way we need for true comfort. You can incorporate art and wall coverings such as murals, which can create a stimulus and awaken memories of happy places that we like to surround ourselves with. Indoor plants can be used to re-create a natural habitat and arranging the plants in a naturalistic style will help you create an indoor-outdoor environment. Varied textures and colours can add to this effect. Although lighting is one of the most effective ways to improve our sight quality.

Wall Murals

Credit - Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Royal Fernery 113/3009, by Cole & Son.


Wall Murals

Credit - AJWallpaper , 3D MORNING FOG 072

Wall Mural

Credit - Esty, removable vintage wallpaper, blue bird and leaves pattern, dark background, unique graphics, botanical, room decor, wall mural

Biodynamic Lighting is a great way to achieve the biological effects of daylight in an artificial light environment. This method of lighting simulates the cycle of natural daylight, changing colour temperature and intensity throughout the day. Using this type of lighting has shown to have dramatic effect on the production of stress hormones and improvements in sleep quality.

Biodynamic lighting

Credit - Design: Zalewski Architecture Group Photos: Tomasz Zakrzewski

Biodynamic Lighting

Credit - Bhagwandas  new cafe with Sahely brothers, Kael and Matt, and their father Elias (collectively of Barry, Square and Compass, ex-Pillar of Salt) and co-owner-head chef, Chris Griffiths (ex-Three Bags Full).

Biodynamic Lighting

Credit - 10th Bridge Table & Designermöbel | Architonic


Sound is very important in offices, although it can sometimes be noisy and distracting which isn’t great. Noise has been shown to have the biggest complaints within offices especially if you think about all things that go on in offices such as; overhead conversations and the noises from the printer copier room. No wonder some people prefer to work from home!

Although, there is a solution to this the ‘Habitat Soundscaping’ system developed by Plantronics. This system uses a simulated water sound to mask loud conversation and help reduce the impact of distraction. It can even move the acoustic mask as the source of the sound moves. Natural sounds, like a stream of water or birdsongs, can evoke a sense of calm and tranquillity.

Acoustic Panelling  

Credit - Ecophon Solo™ Rectangle

Acoustic Panelling

Credit - A Range of Modular Acoustic Ceiling Tiles by Turf Design and MNML


Sense of smell (Olfaction) was the first sense to evolve in animal cells and arose as a way to recognize and respond to chemicals in the environment. Biophilic odours such as the ocean air have been shown to evoke a positive response, whilst the odours from urban environments such as disinfectants evoke a negative response. For example, the scent of ocean air not only improves our mood, but also encourages us to think about the memories we associate with that environment.

The practice of Shinrin-yoku (Japanese forest bathing) involves refreshing walks through wooded areas, where tree oils can be inhaled and improve immune function. Many plants emit odorous essential oils such as:

  • Lavender – improves concentration and computational accuracy and speed. It reduces stress and anxiety which increases our relaxation and improves our overall mood.


Credit - Lavendula Angustifolia Munstead, SATORI DESIGN FOR LIVING
  • Peppermint - helps reduce distress, whilst enhancing our attention span, alertness, memory and task performance.


    Credit -  ©2020 Hearst Magazine Media
    • Rosemary - reduces your anxiety which helps improves our mood and enhances our alertness and memory quality. This would be a great sense to have in the office.


    Credit - ©2020 Hearst Magazine Media
    • Citrus- helps to improve our mood and stimulate it, whilst reducing our stress and anxiety levels. A citrus sent can help to improve our academic performance.


    Credit - © 2020 MARRYGRAMS.
    • Cypress – can help reduce blood pressure through relaxing and improving our mood.


    Credit - Kashmir Weeping Cypress Tree Seeds (Cupressus cashmeriana) 20+Seeds, UNDER THE SUN SEEDS 
    • Vanilla – helps you to relax and can improve your mood.



    Credit - Photographer: Ben Dearnley


      Our sense of taste is closely connected to our sense of smell, for example when we have a stuffy nose this also affects our taste buds as well. So, if our sense of smell is weakened so will our sense of taste. Although taste can also be closely tied to a place, as our memories are often connected by association to the built environment. Although taste is none of the more difficult senses to independently tie as a direct indicator of architectural place and space.

      Babylonstoren Hotel spice gardenBabylonstoren hotel spice garden Babylonstoren Hotel spice garden

      Credit all of the above:  Babylonstoren, Hotel


      Biophilia creates a desire to connect with nature and this touch and tactile moment helps us forget where we are, and we are natural beings that need this reminder of the sensory power of nature to help us thrive and flourish.

      Texture can help us navigate spaces. For example, our feet are very good at determining whether a pathway is even or supportive, the same as our fingers. Especially when we can’t see what we are doing. Texture can be used on walls and floors to help revitalize our sense of touch when using a space. Living and moss walls are a great design features to include in your interior outlet, as they can help lower energy costs and help to keep walls cool in the summer. They provide an added layer of insulation during the winter.

      Harleen McLean Interiors Harleen McLean Interiors

      Credit all of the above: Harleen Mclean Interiors

      So, enriching our environment’s with sensory stimuli benefits the spaces that we use. By understanding that if we stimulate our senses to meet our needs, we can make our interior designs even more effective. Biophilic design is much more than an emotional need to connect with nature. It’s essential need to help improve both our overall wellbeing in daily life.

      Please get in contact with us at Harleen Mclean Interiors where we offer a bespoke Biophilic interior design service where we work with individuals and companies interested in interiors to enhance overall wellbeing, improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and boost productivity and effectiveness.


      Biophilic Design

      Credit - Commercial Interior Design