Biophilic design is an office design trend that is definitely on the rise. It revolves around the use of natural materials and shapes that closely resemble those that can be found outdoors and it has been proven to benefit the working environment and the people within it… but is it all good news?
Let’s start with the pros. Studies have shown productivity levels have increased by as much as 8% and wellbeing went up 13% as a direct result of introducing certain aesthetics to an office.
These additions included increasing the amount of natural light in the workplace as well as adding plants - either on employees’ desks or by creating a vertical garden/living wall.
The average employee can spend as much as 90% of their time indoors (especially in the Middle East) and as the weather heats up in the summer, how an office is furnished becomes incredibly important (as it can directly affect performance).
Humans have an innate desire to spend time outdoors/in nature however it’s impossible to do when you’re working a 9 to 5 job (and in many instances even longer hours!). Simply adding plants won’t automatically improve employee wellbeing but in combination with natural light, wooden furniture, organic patterns and views of water, gardens or open spaces an office’s interior can be transformed into a hub of productivity.
A number of studies have put forward that providing employees with easy access to nature can alleviate feelings of stress and reduce mental fatigue which are both extremely important in a work place. Environments that provide views of natural spaces induce a, ‘sense of calm,’ as opposed to dark or dull offices with grey walls and desks.
Introducing plants in an office also improves air quality (as vegetation absorbs pollutants and toxins). Research shows that plants can remove harmful compounds found in paint, furniture and in the walls of most buildings. Plants put water vapour back into the air which is much needed in most office spaces because they are naturally quite dry. One of the biggest benefits to this particular design is a reduction in absenteeism due to improved air quality (meaning fewer viruses and allergens in the air).
Companies often look at ways to cut costs, especially on areas perceived as, ‘non-essential,’ and large Biophilic Design features can often mean that they require more work.
For instance, the installation and ongoing maintenance of ‘living walls’ and greenery in an office is quite costly and in many cases, companies deem these aspects as unimportant and would rather invest their funds elsewhere.
As such, if a designer is including these types of design elements in their proposal to a client, communicating the long-term benefits and return-on-investment of Biophilic Design is paramount.
Major corporations are hopping on the Biophilic Design bandwagon with Microsoft constructing treehouses for employees, Facebook building a nine-acre park on its roof and Amazon with their cloud forest of more than 40,000 plants!
Biophilic Design is already a global trend and we’ve seen some examples in the UAE too.
For example, Gravity Calisthenics Gym features a green wall and Comptoir 102 has a Biophilic Design theme with wooden furniture and lots of natural light in their café.
Seeing as, ‘flexi-hours’ and working from home are on the rise, companies are asking themselves, ‘is there a point?’ This fuels the idea that introducing Biophilic Design elements in the workplace is an unnecessary expense. There’s less pressure on companies to focus on their workplace environment when desks lie empty for a good chunk of the day. As a result, they often end up investing their time and money in other areas of the business.