To the window! To the wall!
Think about that elevated sense of happiness you experience when walking around in a park. Think about how unhappy you feel, in contrast, in your harshly-lit office space. Nature enables all of our senses to come alive and our body becomes much less strained and relaxed. “Biophilic Design” is a theory that incorporates elements of nature into our work and home environments, believing that this will reduce stress, enhance creativity and improve general well-being. Terrapin Bright Green, a company working on bringing ecological design into the workplace, developed 14 patterns of biophilic design as a way of thinking through space, and uses it to improve at a structured design level, the places where we spend the majority of our time. Here are a couple of simple ones that we suggest implementing at the office!
Visual Connection With Nature
We often perceive basements as “dark, dingy, and scary”. After all, who knows who or what is living in the shadows down there! If given a choice, most people would prefer to have a desk or office near a window. A window can facilitate a connection with nature, but in our urban jungle, a window often just opens out onto other concrete buildings. To sustain a visual connection with nature, a biophilic design space should hold pockets of real nature when possible, and simulated nature when not possible. This includes vegetation, natural light, fossils, water and animals.
Non-Visual Connection With Nature
Are you confined to a windowless office or cubicle? Don’t worry, there are other ways to bring nature into the office. Introducing shade plants that can thrive in low light environments, the sound of a fireplace, textured fabrics for carpets or couches, and even diffusers with plant essential oils can all help create a more comfortable work environment. Textures such as wood, grass or stone can also be accents in a space. Additionally, people usually respond positively to shapes that exist in the natural environment, such as the honeycomb (hexagon) or objects that mimic the Fibonacci ratio.
Thermal and Airflow Variability
There is a sense of calm and joy when we are outside on a beautiful day in the middle of a park. The moving air circulates freely and refreshes our body and spirit. In the office, small cubicles with high walls trap air, stress and problems, making us feel like caged animals. Bring down the walls and think wide open spaces! Different kinds of light allow access to different kinds of heat. It also gives us options to moderate our own feelings of comfort at work. Additionally, having big windows let in sunlight and breezes will drastically improve everyone’s moods on a warm day, or bring some hope of warmth on a cold one.
Presence of Water
Including the presence of water into a biophilic design space optimizes the engagement of the area as it uses multiple senses simultaneously and facilitates calm. The sound of running water is known to enhance moods, lower stress levels and improve concentration. These are ideal qualities for someone at a workplace. Integrating visual stimuli of water or sounds of water through projections, sculptures and small water fountains are all ways to bring water presence into an office space. Ensure that these water features are not too overpowering or it can become disruptive and interfere with people’s work.
Dynamic and Diffuse Light
Strong UV lighting is often used to keep people alert and awake, but it actually has the opposite effect. Between the harsh unnatural lighting of a space and the glare of computer screens, eyes tend to quickly feel strained and tired. To reduce this effect, try to increase how much natural light is in a space. Skylights and windows can bring in diffused light that responds to wall colours, and other features within the room to create different lighting moods. Our brains respond well to light and shadow that reflect natural fractal patterns. Placing a tree or plant near a window to create naturally-occurring shadows throughout the day is a way of introducing dynamic light.
Interested? You can read more on the 14 patterns of Biophilic Design here.