Biophilic design: a new type of working space

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Written by David Taylor on 13 June 2022 in Features
Features

David Taylor explains how using biophilic design can transform interiors and encourage workers back to their workplace

Office working has returned, but it’s not quite the same as it was prior to the pandemic. 1 in 5 Brits are choosing to work remotely full-time, and while it’s understandable that some circumstances require this, this suggests that employees have become comfortable working from home.

However, there are ways to transform working environments to entice employees to return to the office: enter biophilic design. But what exactly is this, and how will it improve the working environment?

Here, we explore how biophilic design can benefit your office space.

Exploring the meaning of biophilic design
Biophilia refers to the human desire for a connection with nature. In 1973, the term was coined by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, which was then later suggested to be a genetic desire by Edward Wilson in 1984.

However, with 66% of humans estimated to live in urban environments by 2050, it’s expected that biophilic design will become more prominent in our lives. It’s unsurprising that it’s shaping up to be a major trend this year.

But what qualities indicate the use of biophilic design? It consists of three key elements, including direct experiences, which refers to physical contact with features of nature. This could be air, water, light, plants, weather, animals, and landscapes. 

Cortisol is our bodies’ main stress hormone – but levels of this are reduced when aspects of nature engage the mind with fascination

Indirect experiences account for the second element, where you can engage with nature through forms, shapes, and colours. Whether you do so through paintings, natural materials, or even sculptures, you’re partaking in an indirect experience of biophilic design.

Last but not least is the third element, which refers to the experience of space and placement through multiple senses, including touch, sound, light, smell, movement, time, and taste. Tick this experience off your list by something as simple as lighting a floral scented candle to keep your office smelling fresh.

The biophilic benefits for workers
Stress relief is one of the many benefits of biophilic design, making it the perfect design choice for offices. Cortisol is our bodies’ main stress hormone – but levels of this are reduced when aspects of nature engage the mind with fascination. As a result, our attention and focus are restored. 

The well-being of staff can be negatively affected by poorly designed offices, placing the emphasis on the environment. Therefore, enhancing the space is going to make a difference for employees. But biophilic design can actually boost the well-being of your employees and prevent the negative effects of a poorly design space. Nature is, of course, at the core of this design. Given its ability to increase happiness, positive social interactions, and a sense of purpose in life, you can be confident that it will be an effective addition to a working environment. 

Incorporating biophilic design into an office space can help accelerate productivity. Research has demonstrated that productivity can increase up to 20% and absenteeism can be reduced by 15%. Not only will you feel more fulfilled, but you’ll also be channelling that energy into your work, so your accomplishments will certainly boost your self-esteem.

Air quality is yet another advantage of biophilic design, which is particularly useful for working environments given the fact that dry air is a widely reported issue in air-conditioned offices. Plants are just one of the ways you can implement biophilic design into an office; they use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, and when the leaves essentially ‘sweat’ water, this tackles the issue of dry air by making it more humid. 

Biophilic additions for workspaces
What could be a simpler addition to offices than greenery? Brightening up your space is easily done with small indoor plants – they’re a perfect added touch to your desk for a direct experience of biophilic design.  Dracaenas, peace lilies, and bromeliads are just some of the many desk plants that can be easily looked after – so, even if you’re not a plant connoisseur, maintenance will not be a concern. Or, if the walls are dull and spacious, they could be filled with what is known as ‘vertical gardens’, where the space is filled with a stimulating ecological display.

Alternatively, an indirect experience of biophilic design in an office is possible. If you can’t quite make the space any greener, or you simply wish to test another element of the design, paintings of nature will allow you to reap the benefits. A tranquil ocean or a mysterious forest will do the trick –  or if you are completely committed to biophilic design, you could perhaps redecorate the space by switching to an natural colour scheme like rust or sky blue.

Many people may have returned to office working, but it appears that businesses are switching up the experience, with 29% of UK organisations implementing hybrid working for employees. With this in mind, you may be missing the elements of nature surrounding your desk during your time away from the office. But that’s not to say that this can’t be implemented into your home working environment. Summer is upon us, so the warmer days are ahead – embrace the sunshine by working in your garden.  You’re halfway there if your outdoor space is already furnished with a table and chairs – although it might be sensible to invest in some outdoor heaters to fend off any early morning breezes. 

There is no excuse for a dull and lifeless office space when biophilic design is an option. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also has many advantages for workers and well-being. How will you be incorporating biophilic design into your space?

David Taylor is commercial director at Flogas

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