Biophilic Design in the Office
This year’s NeoCon explored several themes in regard to office design, including space variety, seamless technology experiences, sustainability, and namely biophilia.
Biophilia is a fancy way of explaining the innate good feelings humans experience when around plants and nature. Biophilic design is the practice of direct and indirect use of natural elements including light, plants and vegetation, water, and ventilation. It has been part of architecture and building design for decades and is often used to increase humans' connection with the natural environment.
Biophilic design was a standout feature at NeoCon 2022 and has been a growing trend in recent years, so in this blog, we’ll cover how it’s incorporated into offices and why it’s important to employee wellbeing.
Incorporating Biophilic Design
Like most established industries, office environments don’t tend to make big leaps quickly. Trends in office design come in slow waves that grow over several seasons. Incorporating biophilic design into offices has been an emerging trend highlighted over the years. Here is a look at how some popular elements of biophilic design are incorporated into offices.
Offices have had the odd potted plant in the lobby since the days of typewriters, but the movement to bring more natural elements into the office as an attempt to connect with nature is more than just putting up faux greenery as decoration.
Live plants reduce dust and bacteria levels, and having between three and six medium-sized plants can reduce CO2 concentrations by a quarter. Using plants to help freshen the air in office spaces is great for allergy and asthma sufferers, which results in less sick leave that employees need to take.
Another perk of plants is that a whole office design isn’t necessary to incorporate them. This allows a company with a tight budget to bring in plants one at a time, as funds allow, and still greatly transform an office space.
Biophilic design isn’t just about bringing in more plants, it also includes incorporating more elements like natural textiles and finishes to furniture pieces and spaces. The showrooms at NeoCon 2022 were filled with heavily textured natural woodgrains and renewable materials like bamboo and cork. Soft materials like wool and cotton were ingrained in several different designs.
Wood is one of the most versatile natural elements available for office design. It can be used for furniture, walls, ceilings, and even architectural sculptures. Wood’s versatility can give a company a ton of options to fulfill aesthetic requirements and can soften other natural materials that have a “colder” and “sleeker” design such as marble, stone, or granite.
Increasing natural lighting is vital to executing biophilic design. Artificial light can have a negative effect on humans, causing eye strain and fatigue, as well as headaches. Incorporating natural light can be as simple as making sure all employee workstations are within 25 feet of a window, opening the blinds, and even adding skylights. When it’s not always possible to put in extra windows, improving the quality and tone of artificial lighting can be equally effective.
Aside from softening the harshness of artificial light, natural light can open a space up and create a bright and welcoming atmosphere, which is crucial to motivation and inspiration. Biophilic designs ensure the layout of furniture or the height of partitions don’t obstruct highly beneficial natural lighting.
Moreover, increasing natural light reduces the need for artificial lighting during daytime hours, which can lower energy costs. This can have a positive impact on environmentally-conscious employees who value their employers taking steps to conserve energy when possible.
Views and sounds of water in office spaces can be incredibly soothing and provide visual stimulation. The negatively charged ions from water can reduce stress and improve alertness and concentration. However, the cost is often the most common deterrent to incorporating water features. Large or extensive water features can be expensive and have continuous maintenance requirements built into the design. Smaller, more thoughtful water feature designs can mitigate some concerns including energy usage, risk of leaks, or unbalanced humidity — as they are often self-contained or designed to be mobile.
Water features, regardless of the size and complexity, can bring unique and fluid textures that provide a stark contrast to the plants, natural finishes, and lighting in an office. Water fountains create a soothing ambiance and are often best suited near seating areas and lobbies as a strong focal point.
Biophilic Design & Employee Well-being
Workplaces matter a lot to the well-being of employees, as they significantly impact one’s psychological and physical well-being. Most companies focus on health programs that often include yoga, meditation, healthy eating, and more. However, well-being can be impacted by the very design of an office space as well.
Biophilic design has been shown to improve focus, boost creativity, and improve overall wellbeing. But it’s more than that. Research shows natural elements incorporated into the office can improve blood flow, heart rate, and stress levels. Incorporating indoor plants can increase oxygen production in the office and remove harmful air pollutants. Promoting employee wellbeing is a competitive advantage for employers, and studies show that biophilic design can be a key component of employee retention and the reduction of absenteeism. A report by Human Spaces that explored the impact of biophilic design in the workplace found that 15% of employees in a biophilic working environment had a higher level of wellbeing. Employees reported feeling rejuvenated and energized in biophilic spaces and inspired by the feel-good reaction to plant life, natural lighting, and other natural elements.
Biophilia was becoming an increasingly common trend in office design even before the pandemic. However, it’s encouraging to see the return to the office bringing with it an even greater appreciation of natural elements. Biophilic design introduces natural light, warmth, brightness, and life into the office. This design concept gives employees emotional and intellectual stimulation and can create an opportunity to reinforce mental well-being and increase productivity.
Whether it’s big or small additions of natural elements and features into your office design, you are setting your office and employees up for success. With improved air quality, access to bright natural light, reduction in allergens, and an increase in feelings of peace and creativity — biophilic design features are worth consideration when determining the best value for your office design investment.