Defence Housing Australia’s latest development includes many natural features but will it inspire more businesses to take up biophilic design?

The simple act of being out in the open air and in contact with nature acts like therapy, says project coordinator Rob Caslick. To prove the point, he invited a research team from the hospital to monitor the patients’ progress. “It’s only once a week in a garden but people report feeling much more positive … The clinicians were really surprised just how much people opened up to them while they were gardening,” says Caslick, who runs a soup kitchen in the same building. The benefits of contact with nature – technically known as biophilia – are becoming increasingly well documented. One well-known study showed how hospital patients with a view of trees from their ward window recovered more quickly than those without such a view. 

Yet since Edward Wilson popularised the term biophilia (literally, “love of life or living systems”) back in the early 1980s, uptake of the idea in Australia has been piecemeal.1

There are signs that this could be beginning to change. Take Defence Housing Australia (DHA). Hardly a hippy house-builder, DHA manages a $10.6bn property portfolio. Even so, its new 152-apartment complex in Alexandria is set to be equipped with a “pocket park” and barbecue spaces, rooftop gardens, chicken runs and even an apiary (you know: for bees). 


The failure of neoclassical economics to factor in the less tangible benefits of biophilia represents an even harder nut to crack. For that reason, landscape design is never given the appreciation it deserves, she says. Take an urban park. It may well encourage city dwellers to take more exercise and socialise more. Yet, because such outcomes don’t convert easily into dollars and cents, the value of that park is overlooked.

  • 1. “True biophilic design really plays with all your five senses, which is why it can be so powerful … but it’s still not a topic or a terminology that is very well known or discussed,” says Caroline Pidcock, a Sydney-based architect and leading proponent of nature-inspired design.