When people think of landscape design, they tend to think of rolling lawns and English Tea gardens. These are great, of course, especially for businesses, but many work places don’t have the room to indulge in those sorts of large-scale projects. A restaurant may have only a small front patio or a small strip of sidewalk […]
Millennials love plants! And as Caroline Biggs noted in her NYTimes article, Plant-Loving Millennials at Home and at Work, companies are working hard to incorporate greenery and natural features into building design.
Going even further, forward-thinking companies from around the world have taken on the “Living Building Challenge” at their offices and workspaces. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a green building certification program that challenges designers to build a structure that functions as self sufficiently and sustainably as possible. Only eight buildings in the world are certified as living buildings, with many more working on the certification.
The challenge is divided into seven performance areas that stress the importance of non-toxic materials, regeneration, and health and beauty. A final project integrates biophilic design, local culture, and a connection to all things natural.
In the United States, two New York-based companies and one Massachusetts College site have taken on the challenge to become a “Living Building”, and in the process create a biophilic design with a workspace focused on the occupant’s well being.
1. Etsy Headquarters
Etsy, which is everyone’s favorite place to shop online for handmade goods, started with an existing building for its New York headquarters and transformed it into a sustainable and naturally harmonious workplace. Located in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, the rooftop has sixty species of native plants and two outdoor terraces providing a beckoning place to relax. Rainwater collection on the rooftop feeds an irrigation system in the building sustaining the living walls growing on every floor.
With greenery everywhere, the indoor air quality is much higher than the outdoor air quality, and Etsy believes by keeping employees healthy and happy they tend to be more productive and loyal to the company. In open areas, employees sit facing large picture windows working on sustainable wooden tables with a living wall spanning the space behind them. These appealing and healthful areas are a calm contrast to the hubbub of the city.
2. Ted Talks Headquarters
At Ted Talks headquarters in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, two floors of the building have been outfitted with low maintenance, high visual-impact plants. Oversize planters line the halls filled with a dizzying variety of easy-care plants. Individual desktops are adorned with plants and meeting areas have self-watering plant dividers. Everywhere you look there are plants, blended with the decor or placed to serve as screening walls.
Ted Talks recognizes that not all employees work well in the same spaces. They have customized each workspace (integrated with plants of course!) to suit each person’s working style. Ted Talks open, non-desk work areas with flexible designs accommodate the many different work styles producing their popular 18-minute talks.
3. Williams College – Class of 1966 Environmental Center
In Williamstown, MA the Class of ’66 Environmental Center has taken on the ambitious performance requirements of an LBC certification. The center focuses on plant infused indoor spaces with measurably healthful indoor air. Large picture windows and lots of access to fresh air ensure compliance with the light and air quality requirements of an LBC building.
Williams College is committed to demonstrating that high-performance buildings are not only possible but practical as well. The LBC standards require that the occupants of a building be active participants in the process because success is determined by the actual building performance, not the theoretical one. It is imperative that the occupants understand how the building works and how their behaviors may affect the performance goals of a green sustainable building.
These companies have taken on the challenge to raise the design bar for themselves and to inspire others to reach greater natural harmony with their design choices. There is much to learn from studying the new structures and monitoring their progress. Even if the benchmark goal of environmental equilibrium can’t be reached, striving to achieve a ‘living building’ stands as a commendable accomplishment. It is a biophilic design inspiration to architects and environmentally conscious companies around the world.
The Shard stands out in the London skyline at just over 1,000 feet tall. The structure is made from 11,000 panels of glass and topped by it’s iconic “broken glass” roofline, from which it gains its name. The building is a testament to the power of man-made design, with all its sharp edges, steel, and glass. But venture inside the Shard to the 12th floor and you’ll find a whole different design aesthetic that’s embracing nature.
Welcome to the “Living Lab”
The 12th floor of the Shard has become a biophilic design masterpiece. The biophilic design principle seeks to integrate nature into man-made spaces, with the idea that humans have an innate need to connect to nature. London-based design studio Daewha Kang Design created the Living Lab for a top facility management company housed on the 12th floor. Designers wanted to take the principles of biophilic design and create an elegant, functional area for work. Some of the design elements they used include:
- A circadian lighting system that’s in tune with the body’s natural internal clock and subtly shifts through the day.
- Color palettes inspired by nature, including warm wood tones and bright spring grasses.
- Living nature directly integrated into workspaces, such as with live plants growing in desks.
- Privacy screens made from bamboo and other natural materials that enclose the space from floor to ceiling.
The overall effect of the biophilic design is a warm, welcoming space that works in harmony with the company’s integrated technology. It also embraces the sweeping views of London out the windows.
The Purpose of this Biophilic Design Experiment
The Daewha Kang group created the Living Lab with an express goal in mind. They wanted to be able to measure the impact of biophilic design on workers. This includes their productivity and a general sense of well-being. The firm is measuring the impact of the design on productivity by using a control center located on the same floor. The control center uses a similar aesthetic without the biophilic design elements. Workers will rotate through the two spaces every four weeks, while the design firm measures productivity in both. Employees will also take daily surveys that provide feedback to the design team.
The hope is that Daewha Kang can prove what much anecdotal and scientific evidence has already suggested: that biophilic design can help boost productivity and well-being in workspaces.
How to Incorporate Biophilic Design in Your Space
More and more companies are integrating biophilic design into their offices. This includes Etsy headquarters in New York and well as many offices around the Boston area. Companies are receiving positive responses from those using the spaces every day and seeing the benefits of integrated nature. Bringing nature into your space can help reduce stress and create a more efficient workplace, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to do. You can integrate biophilic design principles without completely overhauling the design of your office. Small changes can start to make a big impact on employee health and happiness. Start to integrate more nature into your space with the help of an experience biophilic designer. They can help you with projects such as:
- Plantscapes which are custom-designed for your office.
- Living walls that add interest, color, and nature to your office.
- Living art pieces strategically placed in your space to enhance the atmosphere.
Use these projects as a starting point and see the positive impact it can make on your office.
Cityscapes can help you find the right biophilic solutions for your office. Get in touch with our team today to set up a design assessment and to learn more about the work we do to help bring nature into man-made spaces.
The importance of Biophilia in urban spaces is growing. The Biophilic Design Movement is in the process of transitioning from a hot architectural trend to an absolute structural component. As stated by Timothy Beatley, author of Biophilic Cities,
“Nature is not optional; it’s absolutely essential. It’s something that should be part of every day, every hour, if not every minute of people’s lives, not something you just get when you’re on vacation.”
Statistics show that there are significant advantages to incorporating Biophilic materials when designing infrastructure.
- In corporate sectors, biophilic projects led to an 8 percent rise in productivity, as well as a 13 percent increase in employee well-being.
- In schools, the rate of learning in students rose by 20 to 25 percent.
- Customers are willing to pay 8 to 12 percent more on goods and services if retail stores introduced Biophilic elements such as plants.
- In the hospitality sector, guests prefer rooms with natural views and are willing to pay 23 percent more for it.
- In the field of medicine, the recovery period for patients after an operation decreased by 8.5 percent, while the requests for pain medication dropped by 22 percent.
In order to transition your workplace into a nurturing and productive environment, you have to understand the basic features of the Biophilic design. While not all businesses can afford expensive makeovers and chic architectural projects, there are a number of simple ways in which Biophilic design can be implemented.
1. Views of Nature
When offered a choice, passengers prefer to seat at a window seat on a plane. Naturally, having a desk near a window allows employees to look outside. Workers tend to get less anxious and stressed when they have visual access to natural flora. Whether it is open skies or the falling leaves of autumn, nature has a calming effect on employees.
Example: Million Trees NYC completed planting 1 million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs. The concept of an urban forest was created to provide both ecological and health benefits to the inhabitants of the city. Everyone, from commuters to employees, can now look out and inhale a fresh breath of oxygen.
2. Pictures of Nature
Not everyone is fortunate to work in an environment which has access to natural greenery. In this case, setting up even nonliving depictions of nature can have a positive effect on employees. Stunning artwork comprising of variegated landforms, wildlife, water bodies and colorful flora not only brightens up the office decor but is also a proven mood-enhancer. After all, who doesn’t love a canvas print of a sunrise?
Example: One of the biggest advocates of marine conservation, artist Robert Wyland has transformed concrete facades into large-scale murals of dolphins and whales. He has worked on the sides of skyscrapers, sports stadiums, and others in 18 countries. Some of his famous works include Whaling Walls in Oahu and Hands Across the Oceans in Beijing.
3. Corporate Gardening
A simple way of incorporating Biophilic design is to bring plants into the workspace. Displaying succulents or flowering plants can brighten up any corner of the office. If your building has an open terrace or patio, consider planting some greenery. Gardening is known to be a great form of relaxation and helps alleviate work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.
Example: The Boston Medical Center (BMC) has set up a farm on its 7,000 square foot rooftop. During the growing season, the farm yields up to 15,000 pounds of produce which is used to stock the BMC’s food pantry. Not only does the rooftop farm help feed the patients, but it has been a source of enthusiasm for BMC employees who regularly volunteer for gardening hours.
4. Natural Light
Sunlight has many proven health benefits. It is a natural source of vitamin D. In addition, sunlight helps maintain levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones which are key for mood and sleep regulation. Employees who work solely under interior lighting tend to be less productive, as well as fall sick more often than their peers who have access to natural light. Propping up a window or installing skylights can go a long way in keeping your employees healthy.
Example: The Crozer-Chester Medical Center found an innovative way to bring in natural light into its interiors. The building features a dome skylight that measures 40 feet in diameter. Coated in silver color with a 70 percent PVDF mica coating, the skylight not only fills the place with sunlight but also creates an illusion of expansive space.
Artists, designers and environmental visionaries have all been known to use plants as functional, beautiful pieces of art. As more people become aware of biophilia, the beneficial relationship between humans and plants, there’s an increasing awareness of and appreciation for these amazing installations. Here are five fascinating “living art” destinations across America and Canada.
University of New England’s “Breathing Wall”
At the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, students enjoy walking by and gazing upon a magnificent living wall that measures over 400 square feet and contains more than 960 plants. This thriving living art not only helps to purify the air but also provides a calming, stress-reducing focal point. Nicknamed the “Breathing Wall”, the installation features five different varieties of tropical shrubs and is enjoyed by teachers, professors and visitors alike.
Chicago’s Rooftop Wheat Prairie
Rooftop gardens usually feature small trees, flowers, or even vegetables. But one Chicago architecture and urban design firm took rooftop gardening to a new level: Studio Gang worked with a team of local designers to install and maintain an entire wheat field on their rooftop. The massive project, covering almost 5,000 square feet, featured winter wheat, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. This mini-prairie became a thriving ecosystem that successfully produced a staple crop: students and volunteers harvested more than 60 pounds of wheat, and the grain was taken to a local mill where it was ground into high-grade pastry flour. This rooftop green space is not just functional, but beautiful, too. Known as “The Treehouse”, the rooftop is also one of Chicago’s most popular event spaces.
Eco-sculptures of Burnaby
Every summer in British Columbia, residents of Burnaby are treated to the sight of ‘eco-sculptures‘, a living art fusion composed of metal framework, soil, and plants. The sculptures are placed around the city in public parks and other community areas, and they represent animals from the local area and around the world. Horses prance at Deer Lake Park and bears lumber at the base of Burnaby Mountain. Locals love their signature sculptures, and they play an active role in building them. Horticulturists and designers create the metal structures that form the basis for each sculpture, and then stuff them with soil and cover them with landscape fabric. Then, everyone pitches in to insert various plants according to the artist’s directions. The result is a beautifully growing piece of living art. The
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
This 158-acre botanical garden located in Madison, Wisconsin, features themed indoor and outdoor gardens, a tropical conservatory, sculpture gardens… and an incredibly large and diverse collection of carnivorous plants! The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House features the ever-popular Venus Flytraps, along with pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and other meat-eating plants from around the world. While eating lunch or sipping coffee, visitors can also enjoy a living plant wall in the garden cafe. The vertical structure was recently installed in 2017 and continues to delight guests today.
A Giant Living Bouquet in New York City
Imagine driving the bustling streets of New York, and then coming face to face with a 40-foot long, eight-foot-tall giant flowering bouquet! That’s exactly what New Yorkers saw this spring thanks to the “Broadway Bouquet” installation created by a local landscape design firm. Instead of the ubiquitous cut flowers that make up a typical bouquet, this living bouquet was composed of small trees and flowering shrubs. The temporary bouquet was created as part of the NYC/DOT Car Free Earth Day event on April 21 and illustrated the boundless possibilities of living space that would normally be taken up by a stream of traffic and cars.
These magnificent gardens, living art installations, and thriving sculptures are just a few examples of biophilia at work. Whether you live nearby or are just passing through, make sure to visit and experience these wonders for yourself.