This week’s UnWork Series webinar centred on the future of biophilic design in the workplace. With many of us relatively confined in relation to our usual range of movement, it seems that we’re rediscovering the value of nature in our lives. Garden centres are selling out, and recent housing data has shown significant rises in the intent to move to homes with a garden away from city centres. Biophilia is not a new idea, but its value is increasingly being understood, underscored by a growing body of research that demonstrates it to have quantifiable benefits.
Sasha Tinson was joined by Oliver Heath from Oliver Heath Design and Dr Imogen Privett from UnWork to discuss biophilia in the workplace. Here are the top ten takeaways from the discussion:
- Thinking beyond plants: Biophilia means love of living things and nature and it describes our innate attraction to being in and around natural elements. Biophilic design therefore relates not just to plants, but also to natural light, views, and tactile and auditory sensory inputs.
- Three primary elements: There are three primary elements to biophilic design: how we improve our direct connection to nature, our indirect connection to nature (which might include natural materials, patterns or colours), and creating buildings that deliver on an improved emotional and psychological state to provide happier and healthier places to work.
- Quantifiable benefits: There are multiple benefits of biophilic design, including reductions in stress, improvements in cognitive function and a more open and optimistic state of mind. Crucially, these benefits are measurable and quantifiable; introducing biophilic design is not just a nice to have, there’s a powerful business case to back it up.
- Where to start: Understanding the baseline by gathering data is an important place to start; it allows strategic and targeted decisions to be made, and means that the impact of design interventions can be understood through post-occupancy evaluations.
- Leveraging existing resources: While there are spectacular examples of biophilic design around the world, it can be implemented in existing spaces with minimal outlay. A simple place to start is to look at introducing some level of planting or using existing resources in and around a building such as local parks or great views.
- Improving underutilised space: Most buildings – especially in dense urban areas – have some dark or awkwardly shaped spaces that are poorly utilised. Biophilia can be effectively used to transform unused bits of real estate into spaces people want to go to.
- Creating choice: As with other aspects of design, successfully implementing a biophilic approach is about tailoring the design to individual spaces to enhance their intended function and create a sense of journey and differentiation that supports a range of experiences at work.
- Digital biophilia: Research suggests that even simulated forms of natural experience provide some degree of physical benefit – although it should be combined with other elements for maximum advantage.
- Placemaking and belonging: Giving people plants to look after has been linked to the formation of stronger community groups, giving them a common point of interest and something to discuss. As we return to offices, it seems like a particularly important moment to enhance our connections to each other and the sense of belonging to a place.
- A multi-sensory future: The office is often very mono-sensory, with most attention given to its visual qualities. Workplace design should become more multi-sensory, with careful thought given to its tactile, auditory and olfactory qualities to create an experiential landscape that draws people in.
Overall, the time seems right to explore the ways in which we can create healthier, happier workplaces – and more compelling experiences that will draw people in. If you have questions about biophilic design in the workplace – or any of the other themes raised in the discussion – please feel free to reach out to:
Oliver Heath Design: Oliver Heath
UnWork: Sasha Tinson
You can watch the full webinar here