The new 25 Building Biology Principles – what has changed?

Since the 1980 the ’25 Building Biology criteria’ have been used to define a more balanced design approach that recognises both – our impact on the environment and how our build environment impacts on us. During this time they have been constantly updated by the IBN, last time in 2005 to reflect advances in research, but the latest update published this summer at the annual conference has been a bit more radical than previous ones. Most obviously, they were re-branded with a new layout and name and are now called ‘guiding principles’. The main driver for the newest update was to make them more accessible by restructuring the layout, simplifying the language (at least in the German version) and adding some colour but the changes go further than that:

A new name?

The new name ‘guiding principles’ better reflects their nature since they were never meant as a tick-box list of rules/requirements and only very few – if any- build projects in fact only ever met 100%. They are meant to offer assistance and provide guidance to describe an ideal environment to aim for and optimise a design where practical and where the projects circumstances, budget and resources allow for it.

A new layout and structure?

A new structure has also been introduced and rather than numbered through the principles are split into 5 categories. This helps with the fact that they were never intended to be hierarchical or meant to be in any particular order. You are not meant to start at the top, work your way down and see how far your budget takes you. As a result this 2 dimensional way of working too often lead to projects being purely focused on energy, air quality and interior environment and then missed out on materials, design, architecture, local identity and workmanship, local resources, life cycle considerations, landscape, healthy communities, social aspects etc. The new structure helps to avoid ‘the list’ and promotes the holistic nature of the guiding principles.

New items on the list?

Although there are still only 25 items on the list, some have been reworded, some combined and new ones have been added.  A new item on the list emphasises the importance of our senses , our visual  perception, sound, smell and touch and how well designed spaces should help stimulate these. Another interesting point that was  added is ‘non-flickering artificial light’. With halogen lights now having been phased out we have lost the last readily available ‘off the shelf/mass market’ solution to full spectrum non-flickering artificial light (also note previous post on halogens) and as designers we will only have access to light sources like LEDs or CFLs that flicker at rates that have the potential to cause stress, headaches, reduce productivity etc. The good news: New developments in HCL – Human Centred Lighting – demonstrate  that flicker free LEDs can be produced and  some smaller innovative manufacturer are already offering solutions.
Also new is the explicit promotion of ‘local vernacular design, traditions and craftsmanship’. This is as much about recognising local identity  through design as well as promoting local craft.  It is also about creativity and variety as opposed to only using factory prefabricated, mass-market solutions where every housing estate up and down the country uses the same 5 house types with the same 3 kitchen suppliers and from a photo one couldn’t tell if you are in Devon or the Midlands any longer.

New category ‘Socio-Ecological environments’?

A new category has been introduced that promotes ‘Oekosozialen Lebensraum’ which translates as ‘socio-ecological environments’.  This category includes a number of new items that recognise the importance of developing healthy , socially and ecologically responsible communities through successful urban and landscape design by identifying and using the opportunities during the very early stages of the design process – well before an Architect would get involved or even before choosing a site – and by collaboratively integrating existing local infrastructure, traditions,  supply networks etc.

Overall the new revisions and additions have been a great improvement. The new 25 guiding principles are a useful tool for designers working in this field as well as providing a simple summary of  information for clients and others on what Building Biology is about.

Here a link to download the latest version:




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