Biophilia: Research and Implementation

Ed Wenck | Jul 25, 2019

One of the more popular breakout sessions at CEDIA’s Leadership Conference in Chicago is Grant Farnsworth and Julie Jacobson’s two-parter: Healthy Home: Attitudes and Wellness Opportunities for Home Tech Pros. Farnsworth (director of business at the Farnsworth Group) provided the research on the topic, while Jacobson (a founding editor of CE Pro) covered the practical applications.


“We’re seeing a spike in interest in ‘wellness’ tech that mirrors the surge in ‘green’ solutions that popped a while back,” says Farnsworth. Homeowners (and renters) are mainly concerned about things like mold and other toxins in the air, and the group who’s most concerned about having a healthy home are buyers 25-34. (Farnsworth further notes that the demo referred to as “millennials” account for about three-quarters of the real estate market right now.)

Contractors are having these conversations, too, but the research that Farnsworth has conducted (with an assist from no less than Harvard) shows an opportunity for integrators: The solutions builders and remodelers are talking about center primarily on static materials, like lumber and paint. The creation of a holistic approach to a building that’s focused on wellness is ready for the introduction of tech.


Julie Jacobson picks up where Farnsworth wraps: Her mission of late has been an one of evangelizing for the concept called “biophilia,” a term that’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature.” From Jacobson’s perspective – and the research she’s been digging into – there’s nothing hypothetical about it. Work spaces that implement either actual or virtual elements of the outdoors see results: Employees with a view of the outdoors don’t call in sick as much as they’re peers – and they’re more productive, too.

“The problem,” says Jacobson, “is that we’re wired to be outside. All of human evolution has built us this way, to be up with the sun and in deep sleep in the middle of the night.” The natural chemistry that the brain and body cooks up is designed for a life that interacts with forest greens and the sounds of water. It’s thrown into disarray when humans are suddenly expected to function in a world in which we spend 90% of our lives indoors.


There are layers of nature that could be introduced into a variety of ways into businesses or homes, according to Jacobson:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Thermal
  • Smell
  • Spatial
  • Stochastic

Virtual skylights, scenes of trees and streams (coupled with sounds, and vice-versa – one without the other can be off-putting), building design that includes “living walls” literally made of plants, expansive video scenes of sky and mountains are all solutions that can make for a better, more “human” indoor experience. Monitors that check air quality and trigger something as simple as the opening of a skylight to create a “chimney” effect is one of the simpler automated solutions that Jacobson notes.

One of the most interesting aspects of this, though, is the “stochastic” layer – the random appearance of a puffy cloud, a change in wind, the random rustle of one leaf and not another. This natural smattering of unorganized stimuli keeps us alert and creative, unlike an office space in which everything is uniform, regulated, and never-changing.

Creating a natural-seeming, virtual world – “biomimickry” – is something Jacobson feels is uniquely suited to the CEDIA integrator, so much so that she’s created her own word for it: “biodigitry.”

“And when you think about it,” she notes, “we’re really the only channel that has the experience to tackle every one of these elements.”