• International Journal of Technology (IJTech)
  • Vol 10, No 2 (2019)

Towards the Application of Biophilic Parameters in Local Buildings: a Case Study of Bilkent School, Erbil City- Iraq

Towards the Application of Biophilic Parameters in Local Buildings: a Case Study of Bilkent School, Erbil City- Iraq

Title: Towards the Application of Biophilic Parameters in Local Buildings: a Case Study of Bilkent School, Erbil City- Iraq
Faris Ali Mustafa, Fatin Radwan Yaseen

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Cite this article as:
Mustafa, F.A., Yaseen, F.R., 2019. Towards the Application of Biophilic Parameters in Local Buildings: a Case Study of Bilkent School, Erbil City- Iraq. International Journal of Technology. Volume 10(2), pp. 363-375

Faris Ali Mustafa Department of Architecture, College of Engineering, Salahaddin University-Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq
Fatin Radwan Yaseen Department of Architecture, College of Engineering, Salahaddin University-Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq
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Towards the Application of Biophilic Parameters in Local Buildings: a Case Study of Bilkent School, Erbil City- Iraq

As the world progresses towards a greener and healthier environment, with the design of cities and buildings responding to human requirements and having less impact on the natural world, biophilic design is used as a tool by architects to connect people inside buildings with the nature outside them through relevant design patterns and parameters. These patterns have a wide range of applications in both internal and external environments, bringing physiological, cognitive and psychological benefits. This study aims to examine the availability of these patterns in Bilkent School in Erbil city, which was selected as a case study. A quantitative approach based on a survey questionnaire was used to achieve the objectives. The results show that 13 out of 14 biophilic design patterns were available in the building. Eight patterns achieved availability of more than 75%, while five other patterns ranged between 50 and 75%. Three main categories of biophilic patterns, namely “Nature in Space”, “Natural Analogues” and “Nature of Space”, achieved 75%, 68.33% and 61.25%, respectively. Therefore, the school can be considered as a biophilic design building. Based on the findings, modifications or arrangements can be made in other local schools by applying these patterns. Moreover, this particular building can be used as a model to evaluate biophilic design criteria in other types of building. Finally, the study serves as a useful survey which may assist in designing future pilot studies in Erbil city.


Biophilic design; Bilkent school; Building design; Erbil city; Nature; Patterns


Biophilia is the notion that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. It stems from the Greek word meaning “love of life” (Berman et al., 2008). Biophilic design applies these principles to the built environment, incorporating nature in a deep and fundamental way. It is a thoughtful approach that incorporates elements of nature, both in the skin of a building and its interior environment (Francis, 2017). The term “biophilic” was used by Erich Fromm in his book “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness” (Fromm, 1964) and was first described and defined in 1984 by Wilson (Griffin, 2004). Wilson’s hypothesis was popularized in his book “The Biophilic Hypothesis”. He proposed that humans have an innate propensity towards nature because they are created from it and like to be close to nature and natural features (Kellert & Wilson, 1995). Wilson and other biophilia theorists assert that human beings not only derive specific aesthetic benefits from interacting with nature, but that the human species has an instinctive, genetically determined need to be closely affiliated with natural settings and lifeforms (Wilson, 1993; Besthorn & Saleeby, 2003). Biophilia theory is still in its early developmental phase. Nevertheless, researchers from diverse  

disciplines, such as architecture, landscape design, psychology, biology, genetics, child development, geography and evolutionary science, are beginning to critically examine and detail both the limits and possibilities of this emerging interdisciplinary impulse (Frumkin, 2001). Biophilia is the deep-seated need of humans to connect with nature. It helps them explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate them, why a view of nature can enhance their creativity, why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear, and why gardening and strolling through a park have restorative healing effects (Ryan et. al., 2014). In context, biophilia considers the evolution of biophilic design in architecture and planning and presents a framework for relating it to human biological sciences and nature (Browning et al., 2014). Scholars such as Alexander et al. (1977), Kaplan et al. (1998) and Jacobson et al. (2001) have categorized biophilic design according to a variety of different patterns. These patterns have a wide range of applications in both interior and exterior environments, providing physiological, cognitive and psychological benefits, all of which are interrelated. In biophilic building design, spaces are designed in a way that encourages and supports the connection between human and natural systems. With this design method, people can experience the natural elements and natural environment. It is important to encourage humans to not only stay connected to nature, but also to be part of the natural system and to interact with it. When experiencing this connection, humans will feel that there is a bigger system which contains them and of which they are a part (Bhatt, 2015). Occupants of built environments do not simply want to work, play, eat or sleep in a functional building. They want to be inspired, invigorated, comforted and reassured by their surroundings. They want spaces that will make them more productive and healthy, and in which they love to be. Grant Hildebrand, a professor of architectural history at the University of Washington, was the first to make the leap of applying the concept of biophilia to the overall built environment (Kellert & Speth, 2009; Kellert, 2018). A small number of scientific studies have shown major benefits of a connection to the natural environment, including increased productivity and improved well-being (Wilson, 1984; Clements-Croome, 2001; Griffin, 2004; Gladwell et al., 2013; Ryan et al., 2014; Gillis & Gatersleben, 2015).

For decades, research scientists and theorists have worked on defining the aspects and appearances of nature in order to respond to our satisfaction with the built environment. The central questions are how we can move from research to application, in a manner that effectively improves productivity, health and well-being, and how efficiency should be measured. Cramer and Browning (2008) established three categories intended to help define biophilic buildings – Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues and Nature of the Space – and a preliminary list of “Biophilic Conditions”. Based on these three categories, Ryan et al. (2014) presented 14 patterns of biophilic design reflecting the nature-health relationships most prominent in the built environment. These design patterns have been developed from empirical evidence and interdisciplinary analysis in more than 500 peer-reviewed articles and books. The patterns have a wide range of applications in both interior and exterior environments, and are intended to be flexible and adaptive, allowing for project-specific implementation. From a designer's perspective, biophilic design patterns have the potential to reposition the environmental quality conversation to give individuals’ needs equal consideration alongside the conventional parameters for building performance, which have historically excluded health and well-being. Consequently, these 14 patterns of biophilic design illuminate the relationship between human biology, nature and the built environment. Using these patterns, designers are able to implement and verify biophilic design in buildings, urban spaces, and landscapes. In addition, they have a strong psychological effect in the workplace, increasing well-being and productivity (Roelofsen, 2002; Joye, 2007; Zhang et al., 2014; Gray & Birrell, 2014; Benfield et al., 2015; Gray, 2017).     

Locally, buildings in Erbil city in general, and school buildings in particular, need to move towards a more biophilic design approach for greater connectivity between interior spaces and the internal environment and nature to achieve improved productivity and wellbeing for users/students. It is necessary to develop an integrated strategy, to make buildings biophilic in design and construction. Biophilic parameters and patterns are considered one of the most fundamental design features of environmentally friendly buildings. This paper presents a study of the biophilic patterns in a school design, based on the perception of the users. The focus is on schools for several reasons. Anything that helps engage students in learning helps them to achieve better grades and to be happier is worth exploring. In addition, helping them feel more connected to nature is good for the environmental conscience of the next generation; schools currently have a serious capacity shortage, making expansion and innovation crucial; and children’s wellbeing and productivity are important issues nowadays and through effective application of biophilic design parameters these can be achieved and better understood. Therefore, this paper addresses the importance of applying the parameters and patterns of biophilic design in local designs. Consequently, the main aim of the paper is to examine and analyze whether biophilic design patterns exist in one of the educational buildings in Erbil city. It attempts to determine whether users of Bilkent School feel connected or unconnected to nature, especially with regard to the various aspects related to nature in the building, and whether these aspects have created an enjoyable, healthy and productive internal environment. To achieve these research aims, the research adopts school buildings as a case study to verify whether they meet the known patterns and parameters of biophilic design, to reach highlighting the shortage in the new generation of architects concerning this architectural trend, underlining its importance and viability. In turn, this opens up prospects for the architects, designers and planners in Erbil city to adopt this vital trend in their designs and to modify existing buildings in general, and local school buildings in particular.

1.1. Research Problem and Importance

Despite the new trend of architectural design known as biophilia, which has become a source of great interest to many architects and designers around the world, aiming to create a relationship between man, nature and building; this is what has been observed through a review of previous literature (Figueiro et al., 2002; Heschong et al., 2013; Ryan et al., 2014; Gray & Birrell, 2014; Movahed, 2015; Gurung, 2014; Browning & Cooper, 2015; Benfield et al., 2015; Düzenli et al., 2017, amongst many others), as scholars seek to link the internal environment of building with nature, as the world is in dire need of moving towards more environmentally friendly buildings. However, in Erbil city there is a significant absence of connections between the local buildings and nature in general, and in schools in particular. On the other hand, architects might not be aware of biophilic design and its parameters, due to a lack of scientific knowledge of the subject, as it is relatively new terminology in architecture. Consequently, this research is a serious attempt to bridge this knowledge gap, in an effort to link the existing built environment with nature. To achieve this endeavor, the research adopts school buildings as a case study to verify whether these meet the known patterns and parameters of biophilic design, with the aim of revealing the lack of awareness of the new generation of architects concerning this architectural trend, and highlighting its importance and feasibility.


Due to the positive findings of the questionnaire, the purpose of the study has been achieved. Based on the 14 known patterns of biophilic design examined in Bilkent School, it is concluded that it can be considered as such a building, as 13 of the patterns were present. The high percentage of the patterns indicates that the majority of respondents felt connected with nature. In accordance with the literature review, there are three categories of pattern, namely “Nature in the Space”, “Natural Analogues” and “Nature of the Space” (Kellert, 2008; Browning et al., 2014; Ryan et al., 2014). The percentages achieved by each category were 75%, 68.33% and 61.25%, respectively. As for the level of patterns related to these categories, two, visual connection with nature and connection with natural systems, were completely present, with scores of 100%. Two other high percentages were 95% and 90% for thermal & airflow variability and refuge respectively. The pattern of presence of water was not evident in the school, which may be due to its function, requiring safety for children and students. Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli rated 80%, but the percentages for the patterns of non-visual connection with nature, dynamic & diffuse light, complexity, and order were only 75%. Biomorphic forms & patterns and risk scored 70%, while the remaining three patterns, material connection with nature, mystery, and prospect, achieved 60%, 55%, and 30%, respectively. The study shows that the respondents did not show an equal connection with nature in all 14 patterns. Future studies could explore issues relating to the low percentage of these patterns, highlighting their underlying causes. According to the findings of this study, Bilkent School is a good base for future designs in Erbil city because of the presence of most of the biophilic design patterns, as indicated by their high percentages. Based on the findings, modifications could be made to other locally designed schools by applying patterns of biophilic design, thus helping to improve the productivity of students and enhance connectivity with nature. Furthermore, it can be concluded that this building can be used as a model to evaluate the biophilic design criteria in other types of building. Finally, the study serves as a useful survey that may assist in the design of future pilot studies in Erbil.


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