Urban living often calls to mind phrases like ‘the concrete jungle’ and even ‘sick building syndrome’. However, as health and wellbeing come to the fore for governments, companies and individuals alike, architects, interior designers and office outfitters are finding new solutions that put people at the centre of their creations. One of these is Biophilic design, and it’s based on the idea that we need nature around us in a fundamental way. Rooted in our evolutionary past is a link between nature and human biology.
The idea isn’t new – it was brought to prominence in the 1980s by the American psychologist Edward O Wilson. However, it is one of the most popular and aesthetically appealing trends in workplace design at the moment, and with good reason. According to the Biophilic design experts at Oliver Heath Design, you can use the approach to improve productivity by 8% and employee wellbeing by 13%, while reducing absenteeism.
A whole range of architectural, atmospheric and aesthetic considerations come into play. Spaces need to be better organised, with areas for productivity and recuperation. Structures could better reflect the natural world. Air temperatures need to be consistent and comfortable, natural and artificial lighting should be optimal, acoustics managed, and the air itself healthy. Internal and external views of nature can play a big part in the design, as well as the transition between indoor and outdoor spaces.
Creating a true sense of nature in the interior is often the most inspiring part. Working with skylights, windows and glass walls, you can make natural light flow through a built space. Curved elements, along with wave, crystal and other irregular patterns, help to break up the hard lines and square corners that are so common in urban life. Plants are of huge importance, from hanging gardens to living walls, and structural elements inspired by trees and branches. Rope, hessian, reed and wicker can enrich the furnishing scheme. Waterfalls, fishponds and aquaria are used in some of the most ambitious designs.
Greens, browns, aqua, greys with touches of blue and offset by whites, often dominate the colour schemes in Biophilic design. And, texture is everything. Leaves, grasses, heathers and mosses can provide fascinating living textures in an office space. Stone replaces clay and concrete. Under foot, a natural wood floor is the perfect answer.
If there is one criticism of Biophilic design, it’s that it can feel a bit cold and earthy. A variety of different wood species and finishes, with richer hues working alongside unique grain textures and natural lighting will warm up the Biophilic space and make it seem even more comfortable to the people in it. That indoor-outdoor transition can be perfectly managed with hardwood flooring indoors continuing to similarly coloured decking outside.
With pressure on our time, and our space, along with the constant call of technology, we don’t recuperate our mental and physical beings nearly as much as we should. Stress, mental illness and cardiovascular diseases are expected to be the biggest threats to health by 2020. And all this can be combatted with Biophilic design. Studies have shown that direct contact with nature reduces stress and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. It also improves productivity, creativity and wellbeing.
Apple, Google and Amazon all use Biophilic design elements in their workplaces, and they are some of the world’s most successful companies. With more and more small and medium sized businesses now taking note and joining the trend, that success could soon be shared by people in workplaces throughout the economy.