Biophilic Design — with Kimmi Lee of KiiPA Architecture


Partial Transcript of Episode Two:

Hello, Joanna Lentini here. Welcome to the second episode of my Biophilic Design series, where I chat with interior designers and architects about the importance and art of bringing the outdoors in.

This is a passion project of mine.

I have been fascinated with the natural world since a young age. When I first came across Biophilic Design I was immediately excited and spent a lot of time researching it.

As a nature photographer, I strive to bring the outdoors in through my fine art photographs, but there are so many more ways we can do so. And so, I'd like to share with you what I have learned about biophilic design along with the perspectives of those in the design industry.

So Biophilic design is all about designing nature back into the built environment. The term Biophilia was first coined by Erick Fromm as a passionate love of life and all that is alive. It is the wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, an idea or a social group. And later it was expanded on in the 1970s by Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson as the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate meaning it's hereditary and ultimately part of human nature.

While Biophilic Design complements Green Design, it is it's own concept. Green design focuses on improving the sustainability of a building or home. It looks at how a structure uses its resources, while Biophilic Design focuses on the well-being of its occupants through the inclusion of natural elements, some of which can actually improve the green design of a building.

We are already spending roughly 90% of our time indoors these days and are more stressed than ever. According to the World Health Organization, our stress has increased as we have become more urbanized, and it's actually considered to be a health epidemic responsible for a significant amount of costs.

It's been well documented that we respond better to stress in a natural environment, hence the need for design that responds to our human needs. By the middle of the century, we could see 66% of the developed world living in urban areas and more disconnected from nature than ever before.

As someone who spends a lot of time in nature, I can tell you I feel the negative effects of having to be indoors from anxiety, depression and issues with focusing. I hope through this series we can both learn and implement a few things into our day to day spaces and become happier and healthier in the process...


So let's get started with my second guest, Kimmi Lee, of KiiPA Architecture.


Kimmi Lee, KiiPA Architecture, Biophilic Design Podcast


Alright, well, welcome Kimmi. It's so great of you to take a few minutes to chat with me about Biophilic design. I really appreciate your input on the subject.

So Kimmi Lee was born in Hong Kong and studied architecture in the UK. She spends her time living and working between England and Poland and has worked for practices in China, the UK and Poland leading projects in the residential design and urban design sectors. Kimmi founded her studio. KiiPA in 2018, and she provides a full range of architectural services with a focus on residential, new build and refurbishment projects on urban and rural sites.

Kimmi was actually one of the first people I met when I moved to Wroclaw, Poland in 2013. We connected through the International Friends of Wroclaw and have remained friends since. Kimmi helped me find my way in a strange land, and she introduced me to so many great people, many of whom I'm still friends with today.

Of course, a lot has happened since my husband and I left Poland in 2015, so to kick things off, would you mind sharing what you've been up to, the sort of clients you work with and how it has been operating during a pandemic?


Kimmi Lee: Hello Joanna...

Like in many other industries it has been an uncertain time in the construction industry. In the studio, we mainly work on residential projects with private clients. Since February this year, many projects have been postponed and only slowly has the building work resume on site. Despite such unfortunate delays, downtime was actually valuable as it allowed both our clients and us to take a breath and rethink our habitats, and the way we live. 

Joanna Lentini: Hmm. I know the feeling and I totally agree about the benefits of downtime. It's definitely been an interesting time because for the first time in over a decade, I've been forced to sit still and it's been nice and a lot of ways perhaps if I hadn't already done a good amount of travelling, I'd be a bit more restless. But I'm not sure.

Over the last eight months, I've had to photograph the magic in my own backyard for a change, and it's been a valuable journey. I've also had this growing interest in this movement to rewild our homes and backyards. And I suppose the pandemic has provided me the time to explore these things on a deeper level. In fact, it's what led me to create this series.

So, you know, in a lot of ways, our species has always been aware of the benefits of nature, whether it's in the home or not. But over the last century, we've definitely found ourselves diverging drastically from the natural world. So concepts like Biophilic design, landscape rewilding and just spending time in nature are finally beginning to gain traction. You know, science has proven what many of us really have already known.

So I'm wondering, as we both in different on different continents, can you tell me what the interest is in Biophilic Design in Europe? Are you seeing more of an interest from clients, especially now?


Kimmi Lee: The pandemic has kept many of us homebound, having worked in different countries and cities on different continents I will say the topic of bringing nature into the home has always been brought up in conversation with clients. This has especially been the case during these recent difficult times when we all have been spending a lot more time at home and then realizing that we are likely going to spend a lot more time there and learning to be closer to nature has become more relevant than ever. And Biophilic Design has been a very popular topic in architectural design recently and it addresses the relationship between nature and manmade buildings.

In Europe, in general, we work with a lot of historic buildings. To me the weathering of the building material and the adaptation of the building through time always tell us a story... as if the building is alive instead of just man-made artifacts. This inspires us to design buildings as Living Architecture that evolves like an element in a natural environment.

Another interesting thing in Europe is I find we often live in medium density communities in residential areas. Most likely it will be a mixture of seven story high tenement building with three storey high Georgian and then Victorian terrace houses and then also detached houses in the community. And homes are often built without any gardens or outdoor spaces.

We see lots of examples of Biophilic design that you work on at an urban scale, which often organized by the local community and city council to bring nature into the community in the form of community roof gardens, urban farming, and allotments.

This way of integration, of greenery, light, water and other natural elements help to reconnect people with nature and create a more healthier building environment. 

Joanna Lentini: That's so great to hear that people are actively pursuing the creation of natural spaces in their communities.


Kimmi Lee: Yes, I see a lot of initiative, I think especially doing this Covid time when you stay at home and then you've also been encouraged to just be going out locally. And as you know, in Europe, we tend to living in a denser environment. And so there's a lot of initiative by the local community, which is a good thing to see as well, that you get to know your neighbours, which previously living in London for most of my life, you often don't know your neighbours. And but I think now we take a step back and then try to really think about in our environment and then get to know our local community, which is a very nice way, a silver lining, I suppose, for this pandemic.


Joanna Lentini: Yeah, absolutely. Couldn't agree more. So I have been doing a lot of reading about biomimicry, and I just I love the concept of it in architecture and design. I'll never forget this trip to South Africa a few years back where I observed African weaver birds creating these beautiful round, hanging nests, which I have no doubt inspired many designs. And I'm sure you're quite familiar with biomimicry... As an architect, I was just wondering has there ever been some particular thing in nature that has stuck with you and inspired your own designs?

Kimmi Lee: Biomimicry in architecture, in general is practice of designing buildings that simulate the process that occurs in nature, and we are particularly interested in architecture that imitates how nature acts. There are many interesting examples out there. For instance, some recent new design of wind turbine blades that mimic humpback whale fins.

Small bumps are incorporated along the leading edge of the turbine blades, it improves the turbines aerodynamic performance and reduces noises. And this is quite amazing. I attach a link here that you can have a look at images.

Another fascinating example I think you'll like this one is the invention of bio cement that is inspired by the formation of coral reefs in the marine environment. So aggregate is combined with bacteria and aqueous solution to grow the calcium carbonate which binds the material together. And this new form of making cement requires a lot lower energy and much lower carbon emission input, comparing to the traditional method.

The interesting things we find in biomimicry, what's on ecosystem level, so we're really interested in creating design that has components working together. Like different elements work together in natural environments.


In one competition entry (images below) we submitted in Poland, we designed a plug-in hub building system and it was inspired by a beehive, a hexagonal beehive. It has a multifunctional inner core, and on the outside, it has individual hexagonal shaped capsule units which can plug into this core.  

Each hub has these ecological systems, including solar power, generator, rainwater harvesting system and ventilation system. Each of these can be arranged in various ways, so you just plug in as many units as you need to and this adaptable design allows the building to change over time. It responds to different conditions and demands. And they are designed to integrate with the existing wild green landscape, and parks and gardens, and they can also transplant into a various different locations.

So we see this this design, this plug-in hub system become part of an ecosystem that is in harmony with the nature. There is this constant exchange and interaction between the living and the buildings and nature. So to us, it is very fascinating to think that the answer to lots of our design questions like durability, sustainability and efficiency can actually be found in nature, the surrounding the natural world.


            Open hub urban design — an Architectural Urban design competition entry with a plug-in hub building system concept




Joanna Lentini: That is so cool. Very cool. Alright, so can you tell me how you incorporate elements from the natural world into building design?

Kimmi Lee: As an architect, Biophilic Design is to introduce nature to architecture and make us rethink our habitat. To us it's not just about the form or the shape, although it could be a poetic way to incorporate nature to design. It is about how nature becomes an integrated part of architecture.

Biophilic design works on different levels in our design process. First of all, there are a number of ways that we can bring in elements of nature directly into the fabric of the buildings. For example, one of her projects, J House (below), we designed a steel frame building with full height glazing all around the external façade.The building was set in the woodlands, which blurs the transparent facade — the boundary between the inside and the outside. The building is not just in the woodlands anymore, but becomes part of woodlands. 

J House (above + below) — produced while working for Pcko

Another project is the Maoshan House (below) — which are mountain holiday homes in China — where we bring the exterior into the interior by incorporating the local red birch tree trunks, columns and local stone into the interiors. It is more of a phonetic architecture where you can bring the exterior into the interior.



In another example, C House (below) in London, which is set in a more urban setting, we installed a living roof to a flat roof, and then living walls to the exterior of the house. So a living roof and wall is the roof in the wall of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation.



And so these these tools help us to introduce the direct experience of nature in buildings... which create this connection with nature. 



Joanna Lentini: I love that. I remember when I visited Norway, all of the everyone's roof, they're all covered in moss. That was just amazing. It was so beautiful. And and I love to see more of that here in the States.

Kimmi Lee:

This is actually getting quite popular now, especially, I think, for us in Europe, especially in London. We don't have that much space, and so there's a lot more creative ways of this type of installation installed in our homes, because not everybody actually have very large gardens or or even balconies. So this is a very interesting way of introducing nature and it's living and becomes part of the fabric.


Joanna Lentini: You know, it's interesting, I just came across this documentary called Kiss the Ground this past week. I watched it and I learned that the Netherland's is actually the second largest agricultural exporter in the world besides the United States. And it's like, I don't know, it's the size of the Netherlands compared to the States, it's just crazy to think that, but it's amazing what they're doing with being able to produce fruits and vegetables indoors, you know, and vertically. It's not really your your industry. But, yeah, I just thought it was it was kind of interesting to throw that in there.

Kimmi Lee: It's definitely great. And that is definitely the relationship of us with food or nature of producing food. Urban farming is a big things now in Europe especially. I'm not sure whether on other continents, but to to use the roof garden to make it actually, like not just community garden, but actually growing food and fruit for the community. I think socially is so interesting because it bond people together as well as, you actually use a lot of the space that can produce food that we can get. That's actually a very positive things and perhaps in America you have a lot more space over there, and this will be something maybe more appropriate to the city, perhaps urban farming.

Joanna Lentini: Yes, definitely.


Kimmi Lee: There's also another aspect to Biophilic Design that we use a lot to introduce indirect experience of nature in a building. We use lots of natural material in our design. For example, stone, timber, metal, cork, bamboo, and the natural texture and color and weathering of materials always fascinates us.

The natural material is tactile, dynamic and embody the character of growth.

For example, we designed this Japanese, Onsen-style teak bath in a Basalt-stone bathroom in C House (below) — one of our projects in London.



The contrasting texture of the material, the different sound and reflection of water interacting with the material created a sensual and enchanting bathing experience.

Another example I can think of, we are working on a proposal currently to install copper cladding to the facade of a new extension building (below). Copper surfaces oxidize and form a protective patina, and the natural patina of the copper changes from this iridescent, golden red to a deep brown and, finally, to hues of blue and green color, and through that we experience the building grow and age through time. And makes us feel like the building is alive.




To us natural materials stimulate our senses and imagination and it also helps strengthen our sense of the place. To us, the most interesting aspect of Biophilic Design is when architecture can convey movement and drama — that's something that we're really interested in as a studio ourselves.

We're currently working on a project to design a new extension to a Queen's Anne style Victorian house in London. We design essentially an open plan space to connect a new extension to the old house. Within this open plan space, there are a  number of different types of spaces, like open views, cozy niches, double volume height spaces, sloping roofs for different purposes of the space. And then we would link these various spaces with either a direct visual link or obscure controlled views.

The design is trying to balance between the interior and exterior, between the shared space and the private space, between the existing house and the new proposed extension. And we saw the sequence of space creates movement and drama. So, as the spatial design, we also use different types and orientation of glazing for full height glazed doors, clerestory windows, slit windows, skylights, and these create dramatic light and shadow. And the natural daylight changes the atmosphere throughout the day and the season. And then we also apply layers of artificial lights, which plays to highlight and enhance this space.

Combining all these tools, Biophilic Design, help us to create dynamic and lively spaces. To us home is not just a building or an art form, but it is the interaction between the habitat and and the lives of the individuals. And a concept of Biophilic Design helps us to create an experience of movement and drama and life, and time, and help our home, to make us feel alive. 





Joanna Lentini: 

It's such a beautiful way to look at it. Yeah, super interesting — so fascinating.

Well, I think we're just about out of time. I want to thank you so much for your chatting with me today about Biophilic Design — it's definitely been a lot of fun and we've learned a lot.

For anyone interested in learning more about Kimmi Lee's work, you can explore her website (, her Houzz profile, or email her at: