The Sustainable Designer Talks - Meeting Vanessa Champion

Ahead of our Professional Knowledge Network Courses starting on 27 Sep we caught up with Vanessa Champion, Editor and Founder of Journal of Biophilic Design. Vanessa will be delivering our fifth talk in the eight week series entitled Awe and Regenerative Design. Here she explains a little about this sustainable design philosophy.


Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming talk with KLC School of Design?

I am really excited to be giving a talk about regenerative and Biophilic Design to the wonderful and talented students at KLC School of Design. I can’t stress enough how important it is for students and every designer or practitioner working in the built environment today to understand the impact every design decision they make has on the health and welfare of our planet and also on us. Every time I give a talk to the engaged and brilliant KLC School of Design students, I come away energised and optimistic that the next generation of designers and architects will be leaving our planet in a better position. The future of our planet as well as the health of every one of us lies in the hands of the designers of the future.

Why is it important that we look at regenerative and biophilic design?

Regenerative design is important because it goes beyond just sustaining the current state of the environment, and actively aims to restore and regenerate natural systems. Regenerative design is crucial for many reasons but here are just a few:

  • It recognizes that human activities have degraded and depleted many ecosystems, and seeks to reverse this damage through design interventions.
  • It focuses on creating a positive ecological footprint by reintroducing biodiversity, improving soil health, managing water resources efficiently, and enhancing overall ecosystem functions.
  • Regenerative design principles include using living materials, respecting natural patterns, and closing resource loops. These can help create built environments that actively improve the surrounding environment over time.
  • It aligns with the concept of "biophilic design" which aims to connect people more deeply with nature and its processes within the built environment for human and planetary well-being.
  • There are economic benefits to regenerative approaches, such as improved productivity, creativity, and health for occupants of regeneratively-designed spaces.
  • It represents a shift from just minimizing negative impacts to creating positive impacts and regenerating the life-supporting capacity of the places we inhabit.
  • By designing in a regenerative way, we can start healing the damage done to natural systems while creating built environments that nourish both human and ecological health. It is a vital approach for a truly sustainable future.

Why is Biophilic Design such a key component of regenerative design?

It incorporates natural systems and elements into design to promote human well-being and mental health. Biophilic Design aims to "create good design" by following principles that encourage human health.

Biophilic design considers the sensory aspects of design, incorporating elements that stimulate the senses of smell, sight, touch, etc. through natural materials and patterns.

For example, in schools, biophilic design can improve focus, concentration, and environmental stewardship among students. By engaging children with nature through school designs, it can foster a connection with the natural world.

Biophilic elements like living walls and preserved moss walls can boost productivity, enhance creativity and cognitive function in workplaces and other indoor environments. Plus, they can help cool buildings in summer and keep them warmer in winter reducing the demand on air conditioning and heating. This can lead to economic benefits for businesses.

It helps address issues like lack of access to nature in urban environments by bringing natural elements indoors. This is important for equity, by providing access to nature's benefits for everyone irrespective of where you are. You might be interested to learn that there is a new urban design concept, 3 – 30 -300, conceived by Cecil Konijnendijk who will be speaking at our conference at the Barbican in November.  The simple 3 – 30 - 300  rule refers to at least 3 trees in view from every home. Every neighbourhood should have 30 percent tree canopy or vegetation cover, and nobody should live more than 300 metres from a larger park or greenspace.

Overall, biophilic design is seen as important for human well-being, educational benefits, economic productivity, equity of access to nature, and creating multi-sensory environments inspired by the natural world.

For those interested in exploring this realm of design further, what other resources can you recommend?

I would recommend taking a look at Journal of Biophilic Design's podcast available on our website, YouTube and Spotify as well as our printed and digital bimonthly journal.

In terms of books, there are many! I've listed a few below to get you inspired.

  • Biophilia – the Human bond with other species, E.O.Wilson
  • Biophilic Design - Theory, Science and Practices of Bringing Building to Life, S Kellert, J Heerwagen, M Mador
  • Biophilia Hypothesis, Stephen R. Kellert and E.O.Wilson
  • Birthright - People and Nature in the Modern World (the illustrated edition) Stephen R.
  • Nature by Design – The Practice of Biophilic Design, Stephen R. Kellert 
  • The Experience of Nature – A Psychological Perspective, Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan
  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  • Overstory, Richard Powers
  • Biomimicry in Architecture, Michael Pawlyn
  • Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, Sue Thomas
  • 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Matthew Frederick

What other opportunities are there for those looking to further their involvement with biophilic design?

We are open to students passionate about Biophilic Design in particular who would like to do some work experience, creating Tiktok and other visual content for us celebrating the joy, benefits, key facts and case study examples of Biophilic Design.

Biophilic Design Conference
Student online access tickets for the Barbican will go live in September at

We are also open to applications from students who would like to help out on the day at the in person event at the Barbican itself. Please contact me [email protected]

Talk 5 of The Sustainable Designer course takes place on 25 Oct 1pm - 2.30pm. Tickets for Vanessa's online talk, Awe and Regenerative Design are available here.