Introducing Awestruck Biophilic Design - bringing the outdoors indoors through the exploration of wellbeing

How Biophilic design can help improve mental health within the workplace?

Images by Ali Kabas Photography.

Workspaces that incorporate natural elements into their design help counteract the negative effects of the office environment on employee mental health. As the World Health Organisation had predicted that by 2020 stress related illness such as mental health disorders and cardiovascular disease will be the two biggest contributors to disease worldwide. The total number of cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression within the UK during in 2018 was 595,000, this accounted for an astonishing 7% of all working days lost due to ill health.

Perkins+Will have completed the office design for Prologis, a logistics real estate company located in San Francisco, California.

Perkins+Will have completed the office design for Prologis, a logistics real estate company located in San Francisco, California.

Due to living in dense cities this makes the whole situation worse, as 60% of all humans will live in urban areas by 2030, which is shocking. Decreasing human contact with nature and depriving people of the positive benefits from nature. Evidence has shown urban dwellers have a 20% higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. This is why it’s more important than ever before to start incorporating Biophilic design into our lives whether that be our work lives or home lives. 

lans for Google's new London headquarters include a ridiculously lush rooftop garden, drawing

Plans for Google's new London headquarters include a ridiculously lush rooftop garden, drawing.

We are going to be exploring the science behind Biophilic design and its psychological benefits.

Biophilic design is everywhere and is being adopted by the world’s biggest businesses and shows no sign of slowing down. For example, Google’s giant rooftop garden, Amazon’s rainforest office and Microsoft’s treehouses.

2018, Amazon’s Seattle HQ formally opened the Spheres, three huge glass domes that contain 4,000sq ft of space and more than 40,000 plants

2018, Amazon’s Seattle HQ formally opened the Spheres, three huge glass domes that contain 4,000sq ft of space and more than 40,000 plants

The reason for this is down to the positive effect it has on employee wellbeing. Integrating natural elements into the office has been shown to boost the mood of employees, increase productivity and reduce stress.

Microsoft's corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington to build three treehouse work spaces for their employees.PHOTO COURTESY OF MICROSOFT.

Microsoft's corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington to build three treehouse work spaces for their employees.PHOTO COURTESY OF MICROSOFT.

But the big question is what is it about nature that has a such a positive effect on our mental states?

The premises of Biophilia

The concept of biophilic design evolved from the work of American psychologist Erich Fromm in 1973. Fromm coined the term Biophilia to explain what he thought to be an innate love of nature in all human beings.

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm

He concluded that biophilia manifests in the way we interact with spaces. It’s what we instinctively pay attention to and what we withdraw from. Its where we feel safe and where we fell on edge.

20 years later, biologist E.O. Wilson applied this concept to indoor layouts and design. Wilson used biophilic design to define artificial spaces that mimic the environments we find in nature. Wilson collaborated with Stephen Kellert where they identified the benefits of biophilic design and were recognised in the world of architecture in The Biophilia Hypothesis (2008)

E.o. Wilson

E.o. Wilson

As time has evolved, so has the Biophilia hypothesis which has bloomed into what we see today in a trademark of contemporary office design.

Key Elements of Biophilic Design

Biophilic Design is more than just the occasional house plant of a mini zen garden that you have created at your desk. It is made up of an array of elements that amalgamate to form an environment where employees feel like they are connected with nature.

Miranda Lee Morgan has developed a new office design for TUNE located in San Francisco, California.

Miranda Lee Morgan has developed a new office design for TUNE located in San Francisco, California.

That ecosystem is made up of some key elements that have substantial benefits to the psychological wellbeing of your employees.

Let’s start with a ROOM WITH A View

One of the patterns of biophilic design from Terrapin Bright Green report 14 patterns of Biophilic Design is that humans feel safer when they are at a vantage point to assess objects in the distance. This relates back to our prehistorical days on the savannah and helps explain why people might pay more for a room if it has a great view of the sea.

By creating that feeling of security which is particularly helpful for workers as this reduces anxiety and can help with focus.

You can replicate this feeling in your office! If you’re on a high floor on a high-rise building, make sure the windows are fully visible so that workers can look out to the landscape around them, when they are feeling the pressure. Although you might of haven gotten into trouble at school for doing this!  Staring out at the world beyond is actually very beneficial to your staff’s mental health, helping them to focus better on the task at hand and focus their thoughts.

Anomaly’s Office Design, designed by Morgan Lovell

Anomaly’s Office Design, designed by Morgan Lovell

Large offices can benefit from mezzanine floors. These are great if there’s not much of view from the window seat. Even having paintings and photographs of landscapes can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing, particularly if they’re large prints or feature walls. Consider putting them on a wall in areas where window access might be limited.  

Casa en Yoro Designed by Architect firm Airhouse Design Office

Casa en Yoro Designed by Architect firm Airhouse Design Office

Natural Lighting

Looking at all the elements of biophilic design, natural light would be considered the most significant benefit to staff mental health.

Custom Floating Desk Office with View

Custom Floating Desk Office with View

The main advantage of natural light is that it helps employees feel more awake at work and sleep better once they’re home. A study from North Western University in Chicago, found that workers in offices with windows slept an extra 46 minutes at night. Whereas, workers without windows reported lower scores than their colleges on quality of life measure’s related to physical problems and energy.

This is down to the body’s circadian rhythm which relies on the changing light to determine when to wake up and when to sleep. Simply being exposed to the natural cycle of day and night will help you rest properly at the end of the day and feel more refreshed in the morning.

Skylight Office Design

Skylight Office Design

If you want to get more natural light in your office and you don’t have many windows available, consider installing skylights, but only if you are in your own building. Otherwise, consider sunlamps and uv light which are an amazing way to inject natural light into spaces where there isn’t any present.

Sound

Sound can have a significant effect on us mentally. A study conducted in Johannes Gutenberg at University Medical Centre, found that unwanted sound such as background music, conversations of co-workers or the sound of traffic can increase the chances of anxiety and depression manifesting in those that hear it.

Landland design their office from Jump studios

Landland design their office from Jump studios

Creating a serene environment where the acoustics are properly controlled can have a substantial positive effect on staff morale. Ambient nature sounds such as a river stream or the waves of a shoreline have been linked with feelings of calm and a better ability to focus.

To eliminate unwanted noise, try incorporating dividers made from sound – absorbent natural materials like cork or straw. A living wall can function as a vibrant sound barrier between two environments within a bigger space, this helps you to limit the volume without isolating anyone.

Skanska Offices – Helsingborg

Skanska Offices – Helsingborg

Now that you have made things a little quitter, you can start to introduce ambient noise with water features, that can quietly trickle whilst your employees find the space to focus.

Plant Life

Plants and Flowers are an important part of biophilic design. Stephen Kellert quotes in Metropolis Magazine that “biophilic design focuses on those aspects of the natural world that have contributed to human health and productivity in the age-old struggle to be fit and survive”

Tom Robertson Architects designed the offices for education marketplace provider Candlefox, located in Melbourne, Australia.

Tom Robertson Architects designed the offices for education marketplace provider Candlefox, located in Melbourne, Australia.

Did you know the biggest advantage of plants in the office is chemical - Living plants convert the carbon dioxide we breathe out and release oxygen in its place. When there is more oxygen in the air, there is more in our bloodstream. So, when the oxygen reaches the brain, it urges the release of endorphins, chemicals that produce the feelings of wellbeing and pain relief.

Muuto Office Design

Muuto Office Design 

Desk plants are a great starting place to incorporate more plant life into your office. An even better option is a plant wall, as they can be both practical and artful whilst saving space. Living walls can also change with seasons, which can create a feeling of immersion into the natural world of life.

Bringing the Outdoors in

In conclusion you can see that biophilic design is so much more than a quirky trend for brands. This is a key component in the fight for mental health within the workplace, and a new way to energise your employees and make them feel happier and healthier at work.

Barcelona-Based Startup Gets Unconventional Digs

Barcelona-Based Startup Gets Unconventional Digs