There is something quite incredible about the way that nature has the ability to make us feel a certain way; that moment when you first see the sea, the smell of freshly mown grass, or the sense of adventure and adrenaline you get from hiking.
That feeling can be attributed to the phenomena known as biophilia; the innate need and desire for humans to have contact with the natural world.
While the term biophilia has only been widely understood since the latter part of the 20th century, we can see examples of biophilia since the late renaissance, when people started to bring exotic greenery into their homes to survive the harsher climates. In the 19th century the Victorians popularised the seaside holiday – a bid to reconnect with nature and step away from the increasingly urbanised cities.
In the modern workplace, the token office plant has been a mainstay for decades but now biophilia is becoming an important consideration for any office design centered around wellbeing. So what exactly is fertilising this popular trend?
In terms of workplace initiatives, wellbeing is firmly on the agenda for many businesses, and biophilia is certainly a part of that. Recent studies have found a positive impact between biophilic elements (such as the presence of plants and exposure to natural light) and employee wellbeing and productivity. Theory would suggest that this is in part a physical response; our bodies reacting to the increased presence of melatonin as a result of natural light, or plants making us feel more alert due to reduced carbon dioxide levels. But it’s also the psychological effect – nature makes us feel good and more relaxed.
Using natural finishes and greenery in your office design should have the effect of improving wellbeing by making your staff feel happier and less stressed. In some cases, even fake plants can have the same positive effect – there is an argument to suggest that ‘flourishing’ fake plants will make you feel better than wilting real ones, on the basis that they look nicer.
Biophilic design could be achieved through choosing certain natural finishes. In the UK, wood and stone finishes have been been positively linked with promoting wellbeing at work. In a recent project for MotoNovo in Cardiff, we used locally sourced slate to bring a natural and sophisticated feel to their client waiting area. Natural finishes can now also be achieved through synthetic products like vinyl flooring and wall coverings, that give a sense of the natural world whilst being (often) more cost effective than the real thing. The green carpet, chocolate furniture and indoor plants are a good example of this in Lindt's Feltham office.
In today’s competitive markets, businesses are increasingly investing in initiatives to promote employee engagement and revitalise their workforce. Biophilic office design can play a big part in promoting staff engagement! While you don't need to go all-out and install a living wall right away, even providing office pot plants can be a start to boost engagement. Plants can even act as a unifying element in office culture - for example, by introducing an 'adopt a plant' scheme you can raise money for charity as well!
Exposure to natural light makes people feel physically and psychologically better, however it’s not always possible to provide everyone with a view! Historically the executive offices would enjoy the best locations in a building but office design trends are seeing more businesses put their communal spaces in these premium positions so that everyone can benefit. Glass atriums are also a popular way to funnel natural light into central areas, whilst providing an opportunity for an impressive design feature. This was a central element in AMC Networks recent fit out, which also used wooden floorboards to reflect the light and add an additional natural finish.
From living walls through to pot plant arrangements and locally sourced timber floorboards, there are endless (and easy!) ways that you can integrate biophilia into your new office design. It all just comes down to your choice of materials and the feeling that you want to evoke in your employees.
Biophilic office design is achievable, regardless of your budget, location or resources. It's also a great way to provide a natural finish and boost your staff's wellbeing!