According to the United Nations World Cities Report, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments by the year 2030. That means 1 in 3 people will reside in cities with a population of at least half a million. As a result, architects, scientists, and organizations are working together. They are studying the dynamics of the human-nature connection. In addition, how this connection can be incorporated into the concrete jungle. The answer to this challenge is biophilic design.
As defined by the International Living Future Institute:
“Biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities.”
An analysis of the data collected by the Labor Department revealed that the average U.S. employee works 1,811.16 hours every year. An estimated 40 percent work more than 50 hours a week, while 20 percent work more than 60 hours per week. This means that employees spend a lot of time in the office. Maybe even more than they do so at home. As a result, companies are increasingly focusing on providing an office design that creates a holistic, productive and collaborative atmosphere for their employees.
In 2014, the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Human Spaces Report analyzed the impact of biophilic design across eight countries. Recently, the second wave of data was collected on workers in 16 countries. Statistics on workers in office environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, reveal the following:
- 85 percent of the workers surveyed were employed in an urban environment.
- Workers who functioned in airy, well-lit and green spaces, reported 15 percent higher levels of well being as well as lower levels of stress than their counterparts.
- Offices that incorporated biophilic elements increased their productivity by 6 percent.
- Employees’ ability to think, innovate and perform creatively increased by 15 percent.
Some of the first organizations to jump on board the biophilic design philosophy are big weights such as Apple and Amazon. In doing so, they have helped make the movement mainstream through high profile successful projects.
Amazon’s new office in downtown Seattle features three glass and steel domes occupying a forest area of 40,000 plants. Known as the ‘Spheres’, the glass orbs have been an instant hit with employees. From the 4,000 square foot living wall to the 55 foot high treetops, Amazon has created its own unique urban workplace ecosystem.
As part of its outdoor districts in its Redmond campus, Microsoft has built three treehouses to empower its employees to work and interact in new ways. Created by renowned builder Pete Nelson, the treehouses feature unique details. This includes weatherproof benches, rustproof rocking chairs, charred wood walls, and skylights.
Compared to a UFO, Apple Park has aptly been nicknamed the ‘Spaceship’. One of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, this architectural wonder in Cupertino, California is fitted with solar panels and has its own on-site low carbon central plant. The landscaping includes more than 7,000 trees including indigenous plants of the Mojave Desert and apricot orchards.
While the majority cannot afford grand projects, there are some simple principles which can be easily incorporated into any workplace.
- Increase accessibility to natural light and views of the outside to boost employee productivity.
- Use outdoor spaces like roofs and balconies to create creative working spaces for employees.
- Experiment with bright, vibrant colors like orange and blue.
- Utilize natural textures like wood and stone that imitate the outdoors.
- Bring in plants to increase oxygen levels, which in turn brings down mental fatigue.
- Avoid congested, cramped spaces, and keep the office design open and airy.
In conclusion, biophilic design marks a revolution in office architecture. With scientific backing, it proves that architecture makes a difference in workplace health, employee productivity, project teamwork, and stress management. In the words of Amanda Sturgeon, biophilic design expert, and CEO of International Living Future Institute:
“What could we learn from what makes us love being outside and incorporate it into the design of our buildings?”