Designing habitats for humans

Award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon leads the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), an organization that focuses on the transformation to a world that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. She is also the founder and driving force behind the organization’s Biophilic Design Initiative, which aims to connect people and nature within our built environments and communities. Prior to ILFI, Amanda enjoyed a successful 15-year architectural career working on projects such as Islandwood on Washington’s Bainbridge Island. In 2013, Amanda was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects for her extensive advocacy and volunteer service to the green building movement, and in 2015, she received the Women in Sustainability Leadership Award, honoring her as one of the top ten most powerful women in sustainability. Amanda is the author of Creating Biophilic Buildings (2017). You can watch her 2018 TEDMED Talk here.


My career has been dedicated to advocating for architecture that connects people and nature, resulting in healthy communities and healthy eco-systems. For example:

A simple window in a hospital room has been proven to reduce hospital stays, and the amount of pain medication a patient needs compared to a room without a view.

Test scores have been shown to increase dramatically when kids have natural light in the classroom.

A study in the City of Portland, Oregon shows that there is a significant reduction in violent crimes in neighborhoods as the tree size and density increases.

Yet, our buildings are not shaped with nature in sight—literally, 45% of global office workers can not see a window from their desk. At TEDMED last November I explored how we got here. From how the incorporation of electricity relegated cooling breezes and natural heat to the backseat of design, to how our buildings became commodities, rather than a shelter that expressed unique cultures and climates. I asked the audience, “Why have we become inside creatures? Why have we passively accepted buildings that have separated us from nature?”

To answer this question—and to create a world full of buildings that are ‘habitats for humans’—I believe we need to turn to a concept of biophilic design, which translates literally to love of life. Biophilic design takes biophilia and applies it to the built environment, while specifically looking at the relationship between people and nature in our buildings and cities. When utilized, biophilic design creates spaces that are healthier and happier for people to be in.

At the International Living Future Institute, where I am privileged to serve as CEO, we decided to make biophilic design a core strategy for our flagship challenge program, the Living Building Challenge. Our work at the Institute is dedicated to creating a world full of living buildings and living communities, understanding that first, we must fundamentally shift the approach that people have toward nature and restore the relationship between the two.

Our buildings can be designed with that in mind. Designed to create spaces inspired by natural forms, spaces where we can feel the textures change under our feet, hear the sounds carried on the wind outside, where we can see the clouds move in the sky and smell the rain.

Watching my TEDMED talk, you will hear case studies of how biophilic design is changing schools, hospitals, and offices around the world, and see how it can re-establish a connection between people and land, with each other and all other living species.