Office Design; Thoughts on Biophilia & Beyond

November 23, 2018

Office Design; Thoughts on Biophilia & Beyond

Biophilic Design & Its Growing Influence on Office Interior Design

Our connection to Nature and the benefits of getting out and about in the Countryside is undeniable. Just ask any of the staff in the DSP offices and they will concur. Be it a walk with the dogs on the Devonshire Coastline, a hike in the Peak District or even a back breaking 23 Mile run up Snowden; Nature has the wondrous ability to replenish the soul and help de-stress from the daily challenge’s life throws at us.

Biophilia; Our intrinsic connection with Nature

So, What is Biophilia & Why is This a Hot Topic in Workplace Design Today?

Early affiliations of the phrase came from Erich Fromm in “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness” 1973 and later by famous Biologist Edward O. Wilson from his 1984 book “Biophilia”. Fromm describes Biophilia as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive” whilst E.O. Wilson concludes Biophilia as “The urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.

Now consider that we spend the majority of our time indoors, up to 93%! and it is clear there immediately becomes a conflict between our urge to be at one with nature and our basic need for comfort, protection and shelter. This is especially compounded by the fact these man-made environments have had a negative impact on the very outdoor environments we cherish so highly.

Addressing The Sustainability of Office Buildings

Much debate and progress has been made in addressing the issue of how sustainable our buildings are in terms of embodied energy of both construction and operation. Established standards for incorporating and assessing the design of our spaces through accreditations such as BREEAM and more specifically the SKA rating for Office fit outs, has propelled this into the mainstream.

However, we still have a long way to go if we are to bring the damage to the environment within sustainable limits. A stark reminder, this year’s RIBA Sterling Prize Winner Foster + Partners Bloomberg Building is reported as ‘The World’s most sustainable Office Building’. Yet, even Head of Design at Foster + Partners suggests that if all buildings were constructed to this standard it still wouldn’t be enough to halt global warming.

Bloomberg Building London. Copyright: Foster + Partners; Worlds most sustainable Office Building

Biophilia and Mental Health in The Workplace

Beyond the negative impact the built environment has on our planet, the more recent wave of Biophilia discussions comes on the back of an increasing awareness of the issues of stress and mental health. The UK Government recently announced a £2bn real-term increase in Mental Health funding in this year’s budget plans; Aiming to rectify the chronic underfunding and recognition of Mental Health as a medical condition in its own right.

Mental Health in the Workplace in particular has come to the forefront with an emphasis on ‘well-being’ and ‘wellness’ incorporated into the design and operation of offices. In practical terms this has manifested itself into schemes such as the ‘ The WELL building standard’ spearheaded by the International Well Building Institute (IBWI).

Moving beyond ‘Green’ credentials to the way buildings provide a healthy environment, the WELL Standard seeks to promote and reward best practice. key issues such as air and water quality, comfort, access to light and beyond are all considered; strategically interwoven into a design that seeks to optimise health and wellbeing. It’s an obvious observation therefore that Biophilia can play a major role in achieving the aim of Wellness in workplaces and buildings.

Reaping The Benefits of Biophilia in The Workplace

How do we then seek to readdress the balance of our occupancy of the built-environment and reap the benefits of re-connecting with nature on a more frequent basis? Essentially bringing the outdoors into the built environment.

Well the BRE in partnership with a variety of industry suppliers and modern proponents of biophilia such as Oliver Heath are trying to explore just that. Dubbed to be the first research project of its kind, the Biophilic Officeproject seeks to ‘provide quantified evidence on the benefits of biophilic design on health, well-being and productivity of office occupants’.

Biophilic Design; Bring the outdoors in.

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