The Benefits of Biophilia in Learning Spaces

The benefits of biophilia in learning spaces goes beyond plants and greenhouses. We have found that there are multiple ways to include biophilia to make students and staff feel more connected to the outdoors.

On average, 90% of our day is spent indoors, leaving only 10% of our day for outdoor connection in nature. 

With a typical student in the United States required to spend 180 days a year in school, averaging 6.8 hours per day in the classroom, school environments are uniquely positioned to influence how we connect with the outside world. 

To address all aspects of individual and community health, we look at the big picture benefits of biophilic design. JLG Architects’ K12 studio creates indoor solutions that connect students and faculty to the healing aspects of the outdoors by introducing more natural light, selecting organic forms, and creating serene spaces of refuge or perspective.

What is Biophilia? And what is it not? 

If you’ve never heard of biophilic design, it may seem complicated, but it’s much simpler and more cost effective than you would expect. Simply, biophilia is about bringing the benefits of the natural world inside the building. 

There are three ways designers and building occupants can incorporate biophilia to create a more meaningful and consistent connection to nature that supports occupant wellness. 

Natural Systems 
  • Create a visual or physical connection to the outside with views of land, sky, or water.
  • Increase exposure to natural light, both directly and indirectly.
  • Introduce living plants to indoor spaces.
  • Represent nature within patterns or finishes that are inspired by natural forms.
  • Choose colors that evoke shades commonly found in nature.
 Human Perception
  • Engage human senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.
  • Connect with memories of the outdoors; what’s the most inspiring moment you’ve ever experienced in nature?
  • When physical engagement isn’t feasible, explore virtual engagement with nature.

Human/Nature Interaction
  • Integrate learning zones that mimic areas of prospect, refuge, mystery, or risk found in outdoor play.
  • Create indoor caves or quiet withdrawal zones for individual study or refuge.
  • Provide both unimpeded views across long distances for surveillance, and partially obscured views to entice deeper exploration.
Benefits of Biophilia – why should you care?

It’s in our biology to want to connect with nature, and it helps explain why we’re captivated by the patterns, sounds, and smells we find during outdoor play. Children are drawn to exploration of the natural world, climbing trees to see something far away; looking at clouds for new shapes, or the sensation of splashing in water. This could explain why we feel more relaxed, clear-headed, or energized when we spend time outside during the day.
There are many creative ways in which designers can implement these principles into an interior space, ranging from low-cost options such as bringing foliage into the space. People report feeling healthier and less anxious when inhabiting indoor spaces where plants are present.

Studies have found that students in classrooms with the most daylight tested 7-18% higher than those with the least, additionally demonstrating 20-26% faster learning rates.  
Other solutions require more dramatic interventions through construction. Having views or direct exposure to trees and other forms of vegetation increases the sense of an occupant’s well-being, reduces stress levels, and enhances attention span and cognitive performance. 

If direct views of vegetation are impossible, local art or murals of natural scenes can have similar effects on well-being and performance.
Students and educators are under unprecedented amounts of stress these days and are required to do more than ever before. Today, there are endless streams of information demanding our attention, leading to increased mental fatigue and stress. Studies have shown that exposure to natural environments can help restore limited cognitive resources, mitigating symptoms of attention fatigue and ADHD while enhancing creativity.
Through biophilic design we can begin to mirror the benefits of outdoor play and give students a mental and visual break from enclosed spaces and create an environment more conducive to growing and learning.

Biophilic Lessons from Roseau Community School

Roseau, MN is known for the outdoors. From the birthplace of snowmobiling to the coniferous forests that give way to the prairies of the Red River Valley; nearly 40% of Roseau County has access to State or County parks, forests, or wildlife areas. Which makes the Roseau community a perfect place to get out and enjoy the benefits of nature.
In 2019, Roseau Community School embarked on a mission to transform their High School from dark, double-loaded corridors into a light filled, collaborative learning environment to support learning for future generations. The building was dated, with inefficient systems and spaces that created barriers to staff and student wellness, their desire for collaboration, and today’s safety and security needs. To overcome those barriers, JLG pulled inspiration from the natural surroundings and integrated biophilic design principles throughout the building to create a learning environment that represented the Roseau community.


With an existing building dating back to the 1920s, small windows and double-loaded corridors meant staff and students were often in dark spaces without accessible views to the outdoors. By enlarging existing windows, bringing light into buried spaces, and rebuilding portions of the schools, we were able to achieve a 27% increase in spaces that now have access to natural light, including the choir room. Now this space has floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the space with natural light and views of a courtyard, all controlled by interior window shades if glare or visibility become concerns.



At Roseau, interior materials were chosen to mimic natural patterns found in nature, inspired by the vision of light shining through a tree’s leaves and branches. In the learning commons you can see flooring that incorporates natural greens and neutral strand patterns that mimic mossy textures and hues of natural stone. The furniture also incorporates natural representation through fabrics containing micro textures or patterns found in nature, including tabletops with wood tones and textures to help create a more inviting and natural environment inside the building.


With a nod to Roseau’s coniferous and prairie grass surroundings as well as school pride, green is a go-to color for the district. As the universal color of nature and trees, green is generally regarded as the most restful and relaxing color. In studies across the globe, it has been shown to reduce stress and promote healthier mental well-being. Paired with earthy neutral tones that are ultra-versatile for any environment, the color makes an impact on occupants in spaces like this learning commons where green was added through paint, furniture, wall tile, and carpet flooring patterns.


This is the heart of the new building, where paths of movement intersect throughout the day. It serves as the entryway to the gymnasium, an independent learning zone for students, and a part of the entry to school. Biophilic design is brought into the building through the introduction of wood on the walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture. These natural elements are visible everywhere you look, and as the wood structure invites the eye upward, it suggests a connection to the tall trees in the woods.



The classroom is a place where students spend a majority of their time, and there are easy ways to incorporate biophilic elements to this often occupied space. In the new classrooms at Roseau, natural light and views, the introduction of wood tones in the furniture, neutral colors, and patterns connected to nature were all incorporated into the classroom design. After design and construction were complete, the teachers were able to move into the space and make it their own by bringing plants in to add more touches of green and natural connections to the space.

New Life for the Next Generation

Bringing biophilia into educational environments is all about building a well-grounded foundation to offset the fast pace of a technology-driven future — prioritizing people over pace. If we can embrace what nature has to offer, the positive impacts on mental health, learning, and overall well-being will grow in the right direction, keeping our students and faculty happy and healthy.


  Anna Klare Harrison, “Wonder and Awe: How Biophilic School Design Removes Barriers to Learning,” [Video], YouTube, May 19, 2020.

  Jim Determan et al., “The Impact of Biophilic Learning Spaces on Student Success.” Architecture Planning Interiors, 2019. 

  Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychol Sci. 2008 Dec;19(12):1207-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x. PMID: 19121124.