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Biophilic design is an approach used by architects and interior designers to improve the connection that a building occupant has with the natural environment. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the move towards biophilic design has been accelerated by the need to create office spaces that feel safe and natural, and where people actually enjoy spending time.
The benefits of biophilic design can be categorised into two main areas: health benefits and economic benefits.
Health and Wellbeing Benefits
Stress is very common in working environments and there is strong evidence to suggest that incorporating nature into building design can reduce stress levels. The World Health Organisation has stated that, globally, mental health disorders and cardiovascular disease are the biggest threats to world health. Both of these conditions are exacerbated by stress. Feeling closer to nature helps to reduce stress levels by facilitating a feeling of calmness. This sits in contrast to the “fight or flight” response that is often caused by harsh, man-made environments.
Office workers are all the more conscious of air quality since COVID-19. They may be reluctant to return to work in a stuffy, unventilated room which is a breeding ground for viruses. Biophilic design can sooth these anxieties as it pays close attention to the quality of air and how it circulates through a building.
The Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University found that natural light in offices reduced eye strain, headaches and blurred vision by a massive 84%. Clearly, workers free from these symptoms are more productive and more creative.
The additional costs of incorporating biophilic design into an office-fit might be difficult to justify, but there is plenty of empirical evidence that it reinforces the economic benefits. A research study by Exeter University found that office workers are 15% more productive in offices that have a closer connection to nature. Additionally, Human Spaces conducted research into 7,600 workers in 16 countries and found that offices with green or natural features can uplift productivity by 6%, raise wellbeing by 15% and create a 15% lift in creativity.
Biophilic design also has some environmental and sustainability benefits. Live plants in offices will marginally improve the air quality, but at a building level, roof gardens, green spaces and vegetation walls help to reduce carbon emissions and cleanse pollutants from the air we breathe.
Biophilic design can give office occupants a direct or indirect experience of nature.
Direct experience is the tangible contact with nature or natural features:
• Light: Bringing natural light into a building improves office workers’ sense of wellbeing. Light can be used to create natural patterns and movement. Using glass, reflective materialism, skylights and atriums can all enhance the quality of light.
• Air: Air quality has a number of different aspects: ventilation, temperature, freshness and humidity. Balancing these elements of air quality can improve occupant productivity.
• Plants: Introducing live vegetation into office spaces through potted plants and green walls can immediately transform an office space into a more natural working environment. There has been a debate over recent years about whether indoor plants improve air quality, but what remains true is that plants help people feel connected to nature and provide a sense of calm in an often hectic and stressful environment. This is because the colour green has a calming effect on the human mind. Plant life also helps to break up the regimented lines found in most office designs, improving the overall aesthetic of an office.
• Other forms of exposure to nature can also include water (aquariums and water features), animals (fish tanks, visible bird feeders) and the weather (ability to observe the weather through external windows).
Nature can also be experienced indirectly through sight and touch.
Natural images, be it photos, pictures, sculptures or video, can help to mitigate the impact of having fewer windows that overlook a natural environment. Using natural materials, like wood and stone, in an office fit-out will increase occupants’ connection with nature. The choice of colour can also affect the sense of wellbeing. Using natural or “earth tones” such as brown, green and blue are a good low-cost approach to biophilic design, and bright colours should be avoided if possible. Using natural shapes, like circles and ovals, can also enhance the connection with nature.
Spatial design features can also benefit from biophilic design. For instance, spaces can be created in offices to encourage contemplation and concentration by creating comfortable and nurturing areas, such as dimly lit alcoves.
Creating a true biophilic office fit-out that improves productivity, creativity and occupant wellbeing is something that needs to be incorporated at the early stage of design. Simply putting in a few pot plants and painting some walls brown will not create a true biophilic space.
At the design stage, Barker will talk you through the benefits and opportunities to use biophilic design in your office fit-out. Get in touch today: https://www.barker-associates.co.uk/contact-us/