Posted on: 14 - 9 - 2021

The Connection: Biophilic Design & Human Centric Lighting

 What is Biophilic Design? 

Biophilic Design is a building concept that encourages design that connects us to our natural environment. It’s not a new concept, with examples dating back to 600 BC, but it’s not been prevalent in modernist architecture with its hard lines and materials which physically and psychologically disconnect us from our natural world.

David Trubridge, one of New Zealand’s most prominent furniture designers, introduced the concept to New Zealand’s lighting community at the recently held Lighting Sustainability Symposium; and how it connects to ongoing challenges of applying Human Centric Lighting. David has been designing using this philosophy for over 20-years taking inspiration from our local flora and fauna in his work.


He comments:

“Biophilic Design is not just adding greenery to existing design—it is a completely different process, right from the start. Rather than imposing from top down, it builds from the bottom up. It is an enabling process as in nature, where the result grows out of the community, expressing its needs. A traditional village is an example: no one architect imposed his vision, it grew organically as needed and wanted by the villagers. It also recognises that everything is linked and inter-dependant. And it is self-healing.”

His work including the acclaimed Coral pendant are examples of how considered design can facilitate this connection with the use of Fractals, he continues…

“Fractals are patterns of growth that are repeated over an indefinite range of scales. Humans evolved in forests and are attuned to the patterns of foliage and growth. We respond most favourably to patterns that are of the same fractal density. The more our surroundings stray from this density, the more stressed we get. A blank white wall is the most stressful, affecting both our current state and our ongoing health. Lighting is one of the best tools for introducing fractal patterns into our built environments. “

Given the health, environmental and economic benefits of this approach, commercial building standards such as The WELL Building Standard and The Living Building Challenge are advocates of this philosophy.


In healthcare, research has long shown that connections to nature can support the healing process. The most well-known champion on this topic is Roger Ulrich, whose study more than 30 years ago showed that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery healed faster when they had a view of nature. But little has been documented about the important role nature and biophilic design strategies can have on staff—the individuals who ultimately spend the most time in healthcare environments (resource and image: cannondesign).


What is Human Centric Lighting?

That can be complicated to answer, as there are many definitions of Human Centric Lighting or HCL out there. Brent Protzman, director of building sciences and standards development for lighting control company Lutron, says some definitions only focus on circadian rhythm (your body’s sleep/wake cycle), while others only focus on daylighting or the user experience.

A comprehensive definition of this technology needs to encompass all of these things, he says.

It’s easy to understand how certain lighting might strain our eyes, increase our body temperature or bring a certain level of ambiance to a space. But as studies continue to show that we spend a significant portion of our lives indoors, it’s important to understand how lighting can less obviously affect our wellbeing—and, therefore, the wellbeing of your occupants.

Any lighting expert will surely know of the buzz surrounding human-centric lighting (HCL). Some consider it fairly new technology, as much is still unknown or unproven about how it really affects human health.

Although more research on its human impacts is still needed, according to BIS Research, the global market for the technology is expected to hit $3.91 billion by 2024.

As HCL becomes more streamlined, consider what the technology is, what it’s believed to do to human health, how you can incorporate it and what you should consider before investing in the technology.

“What we want to make clear is human-centric lighting needs to take in all aspects of how the lighting system affects people—that could be how it affects their wellbeing, productivity or mood,” Protzman explains.

“It could be how it affects their ability to complete tasks, take ownership of their environment or their connection to the outdoors. Without considering all of that and lighting quality too, you’re not considering all things the occupant is trying to do in the space,” he continues.

Human-centric lighting, then, is a holistic approach that should include all aspects of how lighting affects occupant wellbeing, productivity, and comfort in the built environment. 


Energylight - concurrent developments in the field of lighting

Graph: Shows three concurrent developments in the field of lighting. The so-called LEDification continues while the use of intelligent lighting systems gathers momentum, and more attention is being focused on human-centric lighting.


The Connection 

The late Richard Kelly, a pioneer of architectural lighting design, advocated for Human Centric Lighting design long before the modern term was coined, using his simple process for light application - Ambient, Accent & Scenic (Play of Brilliants) elements. Applying this scenic element is a simple way to introduce aspects of Biophilic Design to your space, this could be as basic as a more organic product form, such as curved systems, or by introducing Fractals with the use of a well-designed pendant or gobo projector.

‘Biophilic Design’ and ‘Human Centric Lighting’ are synonymous, and design that connects us back to our environment and improves people’s wellbeing is worth pursuing.


fractals in nature




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Energylight - Introducing FABRIcloud by Cooledge Lighting


Note Below: 

ERCO’s recent whitepaper on Human Centric Lighting is a useful document to learn more and simplify the subject using their triple AAA formula – Architecture, Atmosphere, Activity.

(resources:, BIS Research, ERCO, cannondesign)


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