Is Biophilia a trend or important for our well being?
During a competitive interview recently, our prospective client stated that they remained to be convinced about Biophilia, believing it to be a trend. For some interior designers it is – or it will be.
At CPMG we promote interior design as the science of people in space and how a space enables them (or otherwise) to achieve their best: people-purpose-place. We cannot therefore, ignore the growing body of evidence which supports the benefits of Biophilic Design. There appears to be a general acceptance that we, as human beings, have an innate desire to be connected with nature: in his briefings onBiophilic Design, Oliver Heath, will first ask you to close your eyes and transport yourself to a place where you’d rather be. Overwhelmingly, these are natural environments and because we associate them with pleasure: being on holiday, in the garden, climbing a mountain, perhaps.
The science behind this is our body’s production of dopamine, making us feel happy and rewarded. Place us in an urban environment with little to connect us with nature and we release the stress hormone, cortisol. The Health & Safety Executive reports that in the last 5 years around 45% of all absences from work were attributable to work-related stress. So as we embrace the notion of wellbeing and create spaces where people want to be and are enabled to achieve their best – places that feel better - we cannot treat this as a trend but embed it into our practice.
In ‘The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace’, Human Spaces reports that one third of office workers would be influenced by office design in their decision to work at a company. As we vie to attract talent, invest in those people, train them and nurture their progression, we must compare our environment to that of our competitors. Whilst there is more to employee engagement than just the design of the office it is clearly a factor high on the list of priorities when seeking a place you want to work in. So, what might this workplace look like? What kind of spaces are we attracted to work in? What makes a place feel better? Fundamentally, we must return to the science of people-purpose-place: the workplace and spaces within it must be tailored to the people who work there, how they work, what they do and the space that enables them to do it efficiently – a totally functional but highly effective menu of spaces that support you to do what you do, to the best of your ability – an agile and activity based workplace in which to boost productivity. Because, when we feel we’ve done a good day’s work, we contribute to the success of our company, our own growth and we achieve a sense of wellbeing.
Of course we need an environment that connects people, is well-lit – the more daylight the better – well-ventilated, has good temperature controls and where water is readily available to keep us hydrated. But what of the colours, textures, finishes, furniture, etc.? A sense of wellbeing is also achieved when you feel part of a productive team in a company with a clear set of values and a strong brand identity. Our clients are becoming increasingly aware that it is their brand, their identity, that differentiates them from their competitors. And so our interior designers and graphic designers collaborate with our clients to create environments with a strong brand identity – developing a colour theme which references the company’s logo - their ‘brand’, creating graphic environments to unify people, brand and space, and selecting finishes (colours, textures, patterns) and furniture typologies which align with the company’s ethos.
As for furniture, our most intimate daily relationship is likely to be with a chair! Furniture needs to be highly functional, comfortable and attractive. All of these elements coalesce, in appropriate combinations, to create the rich ‘menu’ of activity based spaces in the agile workplace. With the minimum of partitions to promote spontaneous interaction and collaboration, we still need to place-make: create intimate spaces with a sense of place. A useful and adaptable tool helping us to achieve this is modular shelving and storage: a hard-working element to create semi-private environments whilst remaining connected, a tidy storage solution for at-hand resources and an attractive space-divider to showcase models, artefacts, reference material and, of course, living plants. We’re no longer weighed down by the responsibility to keep plants alive in the office, instead, we find that people are actively taking ownership of nurturing nature in the workplace.
Agile working and the adoption flexible working practices are enabling us to work anywhere, assuming we’re effectively connected via technology to our teams and our resources whilst working remotely. This is blurring the design boundaries of home and office, café and library, garden and playroom, such that our agile workplace might appear to be influenced by all of these environments and the ambience we might expect to experience in each. Our advice to our clients in seeking to create a sustainable workplace would be to think ‘people-purpose-place’. Your people are your greatest asset, they know what they need to do and how they need to do it best, so listen to them. And, expect your workplace to evolve with the demands your people place on it, as they adapt it to suit their needs and as new initiatives in workplace design emerge.