As part of our On Design and Makeshift conversation and event series, we have led discussions on various design movements and schools of thought (like Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, and Memphis), the business of artisan craftwork, and designers like Charles and Ray Eames. This week’s discussion takes a turn toward a new design arena—Biophilic Design and Terrariums.

The speaker today was Birmingham-based artisan Jonathan Woolley, whose collective—known as Little Forest Design—has given The Factory entrance a facelift by installing a beautiful tableau of terrariums. The effect is transformative; bringing natural elements into our workspace influences not only our work environment, but also our mood and productivity.

Response to the installation reflects the basic philosophy behind Biophilic Design—that incorporating nature into living and working environments can affect mental and physical health, and allow for healthier connections within communities. The design theory presents the idea that humans fundamentally need a connection to nature, but our urban environments have separated us from those elements that might nourish our spirits and physical bodies. Biophilic Design is a way of reconnecting people to nature in a way that incorporates natural elements into current living and working systems.

In preparation for his presentation, we asked Jonathan to give us some background on the theory of Biophilic Design and his design collective, Little Forest Design.


AC: Can you explain a little about the theories of Biophilia and Biophilic Design?

JW: Biophilia is a theory proposed by world-renowned scientist and Alabama native, E. O. Wilson. It basically states that humans have an innate, evolutionary trait of love for the natural world and having nature in our environments exerts several beneficial health effects. For the past decade, architects and designers have been incorporating this theory into their work and have seen great results. Biophilic Design principles can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important.

AC: What principles of Biophilia are most important to you and your work?

JW: The importance of Biophilic design is seen in its ability to consider the health and wellbeing of people as biological organisms in regards to the direct relationship of their environment. Over 30 years of extensive scientific research shows that connection to natural spaces can elevate mood, reduce stress, promote healing, improve cognitive functioning, increase productivity, and heighten self-esteem.

Humans have lived in direct contact to natural environments as agrarian civilizations for 12,000 years. Only in the last 250 years have modern cities become common. Currently, the average individual spends about 90% of their day indoors.  While modern advances in technology have drastically increased, our evolutionary biology, in many ways, has not. As a result, chronic stress is a major issue in modern society. Today, 54% of the world’s human population lives in urban environments. This proportion is projected to rise to 70% by 2050 ( By taking a Biophilic approach to design, we can work towards a sustainable future for ourselves and our environment.

I believe the most important principle of Biophilic design is to nurture a love of place. By celebrating and connecting to the natural ecosystems within our urban and suburban environments, we can create and sustain functional spaces that are inspirational, restorative, and healthy.

AC: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and about Little Forest Design? What projects are you currently working on? And what projects have you worked on in the past have brought you the most satisfaction?

JW: I am a Birmingham resident, environmental artist, educator, and creative director of Little Forest. Through multi-sensory installations, workshops, and small-scale sustainable design, I strive to create positive, meaningful, and interactive experiences of the natural world. My current projects include facilitating terrarium workshops, instructing environmental art classes with Magic City Art Connection and YWCA Birmingham, developing logo design and branding for a new local business, and illustrating a series of native insects and wild edibles.


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