Biophilic Design Is the Latest Buzz in Multifamily

Green building with balcony gardens

©Artur Debat - Getty Images

High-rise apartments are getting more in touch with nature. Living on the 40th or 45th floor, for example, can make tenants feel far away from it—and since the pandemic, apartment dwellers are craving closer ties to greenery. In response, more plants are coming to rooftops, lobbies, and balconies.

The Wardian London development in London features two newly built towers of 50 and 55 stories that have greenery cascading over each balcony. The lobby contains 100 different species of exotic plants all across the globe. The swimming pool is lined with palm trees.

During pandemic lockdowns, Kenny Yeo, 32, told The Wall Street Journal that he felt “almost a desperate need to reconnect to nature, and having all the plants in the building is very calming and relaxing.” In his previous apartment, he did not have any greenery. Now, he has added about 16 plants of all different types.

Renters and homeowners alike are embracing biophilic design—which is integrating natural elements into everyday living spaces. Features may include plantings and greenery, outdoor space, large windows, and natural ventilation.

“It is about making our buildings more symbiotic with nature,” Mat Cash, a partner at Heatherwick Studio, the British company that designed the Eden development in Singapore, told The Wall Street Journal. Each of Eden’s balconies is filled with tropical plants. “There is a human desire for the restorative and calming benefits of nature. It is something which is innate in humans. It is not just about planting but about fresh air and natural light, and even in a very hot and humid climate natural ventilation works very, very well.”

U.S. developers are also noticing the desire. One Beverly Hills will begin construction next year and will be a 17.5-acre neighborhood that centers on biophilic design principles. Two apartment buildings will contain 300 homes. Each home will have sliding glass doors that lead out to a curved terrace filled with plants. The development will also feature an 8-acre botanical garden. The development is to be completed by 2027.

“The connection to nature starts when you look out of the window,” says David Summerfield, head of the architectural studio at Foster + Partners, which has planned One Beverly Hills. “The residence lower down will look straight out onto the park, and as you go up there are huge terraces. It is almost like the park is coming up the building and into your apartment.”

Optima Inc. has been adding biophilic design principles to its communities for more than 40 years. It has been offering green roofs, courtyards, and gardens. A vertical landscaping system is on display at its Optima Camelview Village in Scottsdale, Ariz. Several colorful plants grow up and over the ledge of private terraces on each floor of the building.

“This system helps enhance the natural beauty of our projects by allowing a palette of vibrantly colored plants to grow up and over the edge of each private terrace on every floor of the building,” David Hovey Jr., president and COO of Optima Inc., told Multi-Housing News earlier this year.