Incorporating nature-inspired design into the workplace has proven physical and psychological benefits for the occupants, but how can FMs go about practically including natural elements into the office? Oliver Heath explains.
23 April 2015 | By Oliver Heath
The biophilic design movement is founded on the idea that humans have an intrinsic connection to the natural world and crave its calming presence.
Although the advantages of re-establishing this bond between nature and man have been shown in recent research, it can be hard for FMs to visualise incorporating biophilic elements into a workplace without a large amount of time, disruption or expense.
But whether it is an existing place or new build, there are simple techniques that can be used to create a solid foundation for biophilic design, ensuring that occupants feel the real benefits of bringing the outdoors inside.
1. Maximise natural light
When asked about the most desired element in an office, 42 per cent of office workers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa listed natural light as their first choice. Sunlight is the most fundamental aspect of the natural world, and whether there is ample or limited lighting available, FMs should maximise this as much as possible. This could mean rearranging furniture to ensure that desks are around the perimeter of a workspace near windows, or busy circulation areas are nearer the centre of a building. By considering the function of space, natural light can be optimised for long-term workstations, rather than spaces that are only temporarily occupied. Positioning meeting rooms or communal areas in the middle of the building can also allow employees to thrive on the energy of the hustle and bustle to spark creative thinking.
2. Consider the layout
When discussing biophilic design, the whole human approach must be considered. On any given day we journey through a range of social, emotional, physical and psychological needs that must be catered for in the workplace to optimise efficiency.Nature offers an endless range of landscapes, such as open grassy fields, compact forest and isolated caves. As the natural world provides this variety, so too should a working environment. This could be separate rooms for concentration, creative areas for collaboration or breakout zones for relaxation.
Zoning can be used to create various atmospheres within one single space, as a tool to assist with way finding, or to reflect corporate identity. Zoning can be achieved by dividing the floor space through differentiating flooring colours or designs in particular areas or by using furniture to split up the location. Complementary colours can be easily combined to create a relaxed feel, whereas contrasting colours that are totally unrelated combine to give a striking and vibrant effect.
3. Introduce greenery
Greenery such as plants, flowers and trees are not only aesthetically pleasing, but have been proved through research to restore cognitive functioning and improve productivity. They also have the added advantage of being cheap, and can improve the air we breathe by boosting oxygen levels and removing toxins.
If a workplace has access to outdoor spaces such as a balcony, grassy verge or garden areas, these areas can be developed as an external additional to the indoor work environment, where employees can escape to focus or relax. Simple ideas, such as adding bird feeders to outdoor spaces, can also encourage wildlife to an area, ensuring it isn't just loved in the summer, but instead all year round.
4. Natural materials
Four-fifths of the UK workforce is based in urban areas where views of natural landscapes are impossible to achieve. But FMs can instead look at references to nature as an alternative to the real thing. Blurring the boundary from outside in by mimicking natural materials is a great starting point. Furnishings that mirror natural textures, colours and patterns can have real benefits. Surface level materials are also low-cost and easy to incorporate and can feature nature-inspired patterns that reflect the randomness and informality of natural landscapes.
5. Design plans
Small spaces can be optimised to have a biophilic twist. Making sure that neutral colours are featured near window spaces will help maximise light reflection, and colour schemes can be used to evoke the sense of being outdoors. Research has shown that natural colours such as blues, greens and yellows can affect worker creativity and productivity. Including biophilic photographs or paintings (wide, open images of landscapes) on walls or the digital equivalents of nature on TV and computer screens, can also help create the illusion of a natural landscape.
6. Added extras
Natural sounds and smells are also a great additional technique. Sounds such as rainfall, waves or birdsong and smells such as cut grass, fresh flowers or soft perfume scents could help aid concentration without workers even realising.
Oliver Heath is the biophilic design ambassador for Interface