How to use biophilic design to energize your office
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Mattress companies love to use statistics showing the number of hours spent asleep to advertise for their advanced memory foam-cooling-therapeutic-lumbar suspension beds. Similarly, lifestyle coaches will often point to the number of hours spent in the office (just over eight hours per weekday for the average full-time working American) as a reason to avoid adding too many overtime commitments or staying late in the office.
Of course, a part of the working population doesn’t have the ability to dictate how many extra assignments or hours they take on at work, being more or less beholden to company needs. So if it isn’t feasible to ditch the office for the sights and sounds of the rest of the world, how then can a taste of the wider world be brought to the office?
It’s a question with numerous answers. Daylight-spectrum lamps, using headphones to play music or catch podcasts, and ensuring periodic breaks to increase circulation and keep the mind occupied are all valid suggestions. But one area getting increasing amounts of attention is biophilic design, which can generally be defined as the art and science of bringing nature indoors.
In addition to the aesthetic benefits of integrating nature into the workplace, science supports it as well, with research showing positive impacts on a range of measurables such as mental health and worker productivity. Biophilic design goes far beyond simply adding a potted plant here or there, stretching to include everything from lighting to introducing visual variability to oft-sterile interior spaces.
As such, it can be quite daunting to start to envision how it can fit into your own workplace, particularly for space users working with a pre-built, post-buildout office. With that in mind, here are a few ways to introduce biophilic design principles to your space in a straightforward and easy to implement but effective manner.
First, make the most of what you have. If biophilic design is like growing a plant, this step would be ensuring your temperature and soil conditions are appropriate. Every office has a mixture of desk spaces, windows, and entry points. Ensuring the proper configuration of these spaces can be an easy opportunity to integrate biophilic principles into your space.
For instance, my last office workspace was tucked into a corner with no immediate line of sight to a window. While I preferred it since it was also out of the heavily-trafficked part of the office, it nevertheless cut me off from the outdoor world. Similarly, the office’s break room occupied a large amount of window space given that it only saw consistent occupancy during the lunch hour. A better use could have potentially been additional workspace for employees, moving the break room to an interior space.
While those examples might require more in-depth fixes, there are other ways to make a difference with a minimum of disturbance. Empty spaces near elevators or entryways are good candidates for naturalistic planters or terrariums, as opposed to those oh-so-common decorative vases.
Add a natural sense of variability to your hallways and common areas by introducing subtle wallpapers that can bring more visual interest to your spaces. Make use of movable furniture to keep your spaces dynamic and adaptable, allowing them to reshape your tenants’ mental maps of their building. By configuring your spaces to adapt and respond to user needs, you can take the first step towards biophilic design in the office.
Biophilic design can also be reached through cutting-edge products. This article from design magazine Azure includes a number of suggestions, such as lighting systems that moderate their temperature and intensity to simulate real-life lighting variations, and greenery-covered living walls. Virtual skylights can open up interior spaces that may not have window access. And BloomingTables combine a terrarium display with a functional table to maximize utility while also introducing the benefits of biophilic design.
Depending on your local climate, perhaps the most bold and adventurous way to bring biophilic design to the table is by actively working to blend the indoors and outdoors at your building. Full-view doors can turn walls into open spaces, allowing you to encourage outdoor work. Some of that movable furniture mentioned earlier, like focus pods, can be brought outside in order to allow for productivity in outdoor environments. Perhaps most importantly, ensure your outdoor areas have adequate seating and table space (if you build it, they will come – just take a look at the number of people studying outside at any college quad).
Once you've pushed all the property management distractions away and still believe biophilic design is a good use of your time and money, there are numerous ways to achieve these improvements. By properly articulating and adding variability to your space, integrating some of the modern products that leverage design and tech to bring nature a little closer, and working to make the indoor-outdoor divide just a little smaller, you’ll be well on your way to a nature-centered workplace.
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