What is Biophilic Office Design?

Updated: Jul 15



When it comes to modern office design the focus is not only about practicality and improving output, but increasingly important is the emphasis on producing a space that empathises well being and a sense of community for those that work within it.


One of the most innovative design principles that is particularly fashionable right now in the world of interiors is biophilia. Its concept has attracted the attention of architects and designers who now incorporate it more and more into their commercial and public project blueprints.


Biophilia - In Brief


A style that was originally conceived in 1964 by psychologist Eric Fromm is based on the idea that humans have a positive affinity to nature and thrive on this connection. This idea has had a place in history long before it was officially defined, and you only have to look back to the Victorians who began to take holidays by the seaside, recognising its therapeutic and relaxing effect. The natural world, since this period in history, has been celebrated as an enhancement of wellbeing and, over the last two hundred years we have seen an increased trend in gardening and cultivation as well as an honouring of nature and green spaces. This principle is the main concept behind biophilic office design that aims to celebrate natural elements.


What is a Biophilic Design Concept?


The theory of biophilia, which is the “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” is the backbone of the concept. As we mentioned above, humans have a fascination with the outside world and our instincts tell us that being with nature is good for us, especially in today’s world in which increasing rates of urbanisation have led to a disconnection with our natural world.


Weaving greenery and nature into our everyday spaces through biophilic office design triggers physiological and psychological responses and aims to bring us back to the simple and real things that make us feel good, while bridging the increasing gap between our urban lives and our instinctive need to be with our natural world. Making the office more amenable in terms of its environment can only make it a better place to function.


Six Principles of Biophilic Design


Note: These are often used in combination for maximum effect.


  • Natural Shapes and Forms: When planning the shape of the interior, curved lines, arches and domes are used.

  • Environmental features: Earthy hues are used to create a relaxed colour scheme, and the room is decorated with plants, natural materials, water features, and sometimes animals such as fish. Any opportunity for natural light will be capitalised upon.

  • Natural Patterns and Processes: Changing the light settings for different items of the day can have a profoundly positive effect on sensory experiences.

  • Light and Space: Light is very important and whether it is warm, cool, filtered, or shaped it needs to be considered and chosen depending on what occurs in that space.

  • Place-Based Relationships: Connecting the space to the bigger picture in terms of its historic, cultural, geographic or spiritual context.

  • Evolved Human-Nature Relationships: Humans have an intrinsic relationship with nature so biophilic design should include features that reflect this. The features might emphasise curiosity, attachment or exploration for example.


What is the Purpose of Biophilic Design?


Creating your work space with the concept of biophilic design in place will do wonders for your employees’ well-being and consequently their attitude to work. Given the global experience of the last couple of years that Covid brought and its negative effect on mental health, we need to be doing all we can to lift spirits and create that harmonious office buzz again. Well-being is on the agenda of so many businesses today and recent studies have seen the positive impact that biophilic elements (plants, natural light exposure etc) can have on productivity and mood.


Whether this is caused by a physical response, thanks to the increased melatonin from the light or the reduced carbon dioxide levels from the plants, doesn’t matter. Research suggests that greener office spaces equate to staff productivity increasing by 15%. There is no doubt that more oxygen in a work space is going to keep staff more alert, able to concentrate and able to function effectively. Nature makes us feel more relaxed, more uplifted and more willing to be productive.


Natural colours and wooden or stone features and finishes that reflect the outside world have the effect of making people feel happier and less frantic and stressed.

Using glass can also enhance well being. Again, the exposure to natural light (oh, and you get the double health benefit of increased vitamin D) increases melatonin and lifts mood, and being able to see outside and have visual access to nature also increases creativity.


Probably the best reason for adopting a biophilic office design is that your staff will want to be there. They will enjoy being at the office and you will retain your good people.


What Does Biophilic Design Include?


So, how does this kind of office design take the principles we outlined above and incorporate them into a space? Bringing the outdoors indoors is not just about plant life. The concept can be much more complex and, while there are several extreme examples out there (Apple’s office in Seattle), we can work with different budgets and space to get as much as we can out of the area you have. Here we detail the features we would consider when working with a client.


Natural Light: Views of the outside are important and the access to natural light is key when it comes to this style of interior. All employees need to see and feel real light if they are to work well and remain focussed.


Use Outside Areas: Not all companies have a large outside space so you may need to get creative. Roofs, balconies etc can be redesigned to incorporate a communal space where you could add some chairs and tables. Working outside where possible in the fresh air is a sure fire way to improve creativity and well being.


Embrace Colour: Colour is so important when it comes to mood. Dull colours bring the mood down while orange, for example, has the opposite effect. Blues are thought to have the most positive impact, so we try to use these in our biophilic office design.


Plant Life: An easy feature to add to an interior is a plant or two, and we encourage this at every opportunity. Plants produce oxygen and this increased oxygen improves concentration and decreases mental tiredness.


Natural Features: Wood and stone or slate mimic the outdoors and can make you feel subconsciously that the outdoors is closer than it is.


How to Incorporate Biophilic Design in an Office


We are seeing more and more companies looking to improve their office design with the aim of helping employees settle back into their post pandemic world. Anxiety, loneliness and disconnection were all increased dramatically during Covid and returning to work initially may leave some employees even more worried and stressed. This is why biophilia is so important.


These are some of the ways we might change your workspace if biophilic office design is your priority.


Visual Elements


It has been noted that there are several visual features that play a role in mood enhancement. The colour green for example is very positive. If you are not in the market for repainting your office, then lots of ferns, plants or even a terrarium or fish tank is a good idea. Artwork depicting landscapes is also a lovely way to instil a sense of calmness and peace.


Auditory Elements


Who doesn’t love the sound of a spa? When we think of one we can recall the trickling of water, the soundtrack of waves or the gentle blowing of a wind chime. These sounds are used because they are proven relaxants and they speed up the process of relaxation and healing. The sound of birds is another inspiring background noise and we also love the idea of a waterfall cascading - perhaps this could be used in a communal area?


Olfactory Elements


The sense of smell is much underrated and we don’t really think much about how smells affect us - that is until you smell something that invokes a beautiful relaxing memory that you just wish you could recreate! The whiff of cut grass, the smell of freshly fallen rain on a garden or the fragrance of a bunch of flowers can all be hugely soothing. Using these fragrances in a workplace can be very beneficial. Flowers are easy to use of course but think about incorporating essential oils or fruit essence diffusers to help produce other relaxing aromas.


The Sense of Touch


Touch is something we use to interact with our environment and when we think about the positive effect of touch in nature, it is easy to conjure up images of walking barefoot on the beach, or stroking an animal, perhaps. These actions induce serotonin and oxytocin production which make us feel great. Touch is a hard one to deal with in the workplace, however, particularly post pandemic but we try to include natural elements such as wood - bamboo is a good one - and stone into communal areas so employees can sense their presence even when not touching.


Temperature


Inside, temperature and ‘weather’ is consistent (for a reason), but this environment is markedly different from what we should be experiencing outside. Offices are often blasted with artificial air conditioning or heaters and the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. Instead of air con systems we encourage the use of air vents over individual work desks, operable windows and even open air areas if the weather and location allows.


Light


Similar to temperature, light in a regular workspace tends to remain constant. Natural light from the outside changes all the time and our natural circadian rhythm works best with this as its guide. Consistent, harsh, artificial light interrupts our natural rhythm and can cause tiredness, boredom and low mood. It also causes us to have disturbed sleep, reduces well-being and increases risk of other health problems.


Is biophilic design sustainable?


Biophilia and sustainability are fundamentally different but they both have similar aims. Biophilia refers to the human need for nature in order to thrive, while sustainability aims to reduce resource consumption so that humans can balance the ecological systems with the modern world and ensure the lasting availability of resources.


We are proud of our integrated approach that appreciates the human need for nature but also strives to create biophilic working spaces that are sensitive to balanced resource use and environmental preservation. We emphasise the health of your employees and their environment through our skilled office design process.


If you are interested in exploring the many benefits of the biophilic style of design and incorporate them into your workspace, then get in touch. Our expert team will be happy to discuss all of your options taking into account your design aspirations, budget and desired outcomes. Let us help you provide your valued employees with an environment in which they can flourish and make your business the best it can be.


Reference:

Biophilic office design: Exploring the impact of a multisensory approach on human well-being https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494421001353