• 7:48 MIN READ

Biophilic Office Design

Have you ever heard of living walls?

If so, then probably not in an office context. But water features, earth tones and rooftop gardens can very well be integrated into an office's design. The idea is called biophilic office design. But there is more to it than simply placing potted plants in the office.

How exactly can you picture biophilic design? The practice of biophilic design is described as an inherent human inclination to embrace nature, which even in the modern world continues to be critical to people's physical and mental health and well-being. In the context of the commercial world, this is rooted in viewing the office as a community. It is about creating workplaces that support social integration and community well-being. The biophilic design style is on the rise and architects and designers are beginning to consider it as an integral part of any commercial and public building plan.

Biophilia - what does it mean and where does it come from?

The term biophilia was coined by psychologist Eric Fromm. He referred to the human need and desire to connect with nature. This also applies to office design.

To restore and maintain health and well-being, the connection between people and nature is an essential aspect. The concept was celebrated as early as Victorian times. There was much interest in growing a variety of plants and creating public botanical gardens. In the same way, the biophilic office wants to seek and appreciate nature and greenery.

What does that mean for the office community in this context?

In today's fast-paced business world, it's more important than ever to create a sense of belonging. Being part of something means collaboration and mutual support. Biophilic design should form the basis for this community. How does this work? Plants and the greenery of nature enhance our sense of connectivity and can offset the rigors of digital work practices.

Who hasn't sat indoors at a desk for a week and then escaped straight to the mountains? The built environment in our cities, for the most part, creates tension between nature and people. The effects of this isolated existence in fluorescently lit buildings are exhausted relationships with our environment, our community, and ourselves.

Biophilic design strives to reverse this isolation by cultivating our participation in the natural world, through the thoughtful design of our built environment. Office buildings suddenly become mediators of nature, bringing together the natural world and the human experience.

The human need to be connected to nature can be satisfied through biophilic design in two ways: either through a direct connection to nature or through a symbolic connection. Direct connections are created through natural elements that are integrated into the workplace. However, when these are not present, individuals can create a symbolic connection to nature that is different in that it mimics the natural environment. When design mimics the patterns, shapes, and textures of nature, it can create these symbolic connections. The importance of contact with nature in the workplace is obvious, but when organizations are unable to make this contact directly, symbolic connections seem to be the ideal and necessary substitute.

Now there arises one question: is the effect of imitated nature indoors different from real contact with nature? Effectively mimicking the natural environment indoors can have the same effect on reducing stress and increasing energy levels as nature itself. Bringing elements of nature into the workplace, whether real or artificial, is beneficial to employees. When considering office design and its impact on employees, the amount of contact with nature in the workplace should be well considered to not only promote employee well-being, but also to keep their performance at an optimal level.

What does biophilic office design have to do with wellness?

The idea, as with so many modern design approaches, is human-centered design. We spend about 90 percent of our lives indoors, which means our health and well-being are significantly affected by the built environment.

Studies show that employees in offices that incorporate natural elements like greenery and sunshine are six percent more likely to be productive and report a 15 percent higher sense of well-being. They are also 15 percent more creative than employees in other office environments. The presence of plants alone increases the well-being of the building's occupants by a dramatic 40 percent.

The wellness benefits of integrating nature into the office range from a better immune system to stress reduction, improved mood, better concentration, and higher energy levels.

Although the study of the benefits of biophilia to individual well-being is relatively new, there is clearly growing evidence that biophilic design can have a positive impact, from reducing stress and anxiety, to increasing self-reported well-being. There are clear links between these findings and areas of organizational psychology that merit accepting biophilia as part of comprehensive well-being strategies.

How can biophilic office design be implemented?

Some might say biophilic design is just a label that combines various progressive office design trends. However, as mindfulness, workplace wellness and employee engagement become increasingly important to businesses, it seems that biophilic office design is already taking deep roots and is here to stay.

When it comes to implementation, we're talking about an abundance of green spaces where employees can collaborate, but also relax. Evocation of nature can come through certain shapes, such as roof columns that mimic vines on a tree. The principles are relatively straightforward and can be integrated into pre-existing work environments.

Probably among the most important seems to be access to natural light and a view of the outside world. Both have a huge impact on employee well-being, productivity, and energy levels.

Invest in outdoor spaces, whether it's the roof, balconies, or a garden. Here, employees can easily work right outside in good weather and benefit from fresh air and natural light.

Do you mind a little color? Color can have an impact on employee well-being, and dull colors can have a detrimental effect. Adding an indirect experience with nature through earth tones can also have several positive psychological and physiological effects. We welcome colors like forest green, sky blue or savannah brown. Research has shown that certain colors actually change work moods. Green, for example, can increase creativity, while a warm yellow or red can trigger a greater attention span.

Furthermore, the integration of natural materials, such as wood and stone, is an important component of biophilic design. Incorporating these natural features and textures can help mimic nature, and thus actually will bring nature into the office.

As previously indicated, biophilic design cannot be pulled off with the placement of a few potted plants. However, it is important to incorporate plant life into the workplace. By integrating plant life into the workplace, oxygen levels can increase and subsequently improve concentration and reduce mental fatigue.

However, the key to modern workplace design, coupled with biophilic design, is to give your employees space and choice. If employees want to focus, they should have a quiet space to do so, where they can also work alone in a focused manner. Conversely, should employees need to collaborate, make sure they have enough space to do so without feeling overly confined.

Why opt for biophilic office design?

The adoption and acceptance of biophilic office design is deeply rooted: numerous studies have proven that integrating natural elements into the workplace increases employee productivity, creativity, and morale. The quality of office design has an impact on employee energy levels. As previously listed, these restorative qualities of nature can be replicated in the workplace in a variety of ways.

The goal should be to trigger physical, emotional, and cognitive responses through nature, as well as foster a positive connection to the workplace.

One can almost speak of a dramatic impact of various natural elements on the condition of employees: increased well-being, increased productivity, and creativity. The question arises as to how exactly these benefits are achieved. While it would be useful to understand how the visual presence of natural elements in indoor environments can have a positive impact on well-being and health, one should be open to the possibility that the natural environment influences subconscious parts of the brain in ways that cannot be easily described. Objects in the field of view can indeed exert an influence, even if the conscious brain is unaware of their existence. A classic example is the reaction to a twig on the ground; if it even remotely resembles a snake, the feeling of fear is triggered before the twig is even seen. Similarly, natural elements can affect brain processes through unconscious mechanisms, even when they are not the focus of interest. Therefore, the absence of such natural elements may indicate an unnatural and thus potentially unsafe environment. Simply put, office workers may not consciously sense that design affects their workplace choices, but it does. Therefore, it is important for companies, designers, and researchers to be aware of these relationships and act accordingly.

People are becoming increasingly isolated from nature, but the benefits of contact with nature are obvious, not only in the workplace, but in any environment where people spend time. It is critical for employers to consider the influences of nature on individuals, not only to maintain positive levels of psychological well-being in the workforce, but also to ensure that employees are not disengaged and unproductive.

Biophilic office design means creating a work environment where employees are happy, healthy, and productive.