Computer screens. Artificial light. Whitewashed walls.
With the majority of the UK office workforce (approximately 81%) spending around four to nine hours per day behind their desks looking at screens, having a positive environment is a key factor when it comes to office design.
Surveys have shown that around 64% of individuals claim their office environment has a negative impact on their mental wellbeing and health. The inclusion and incorporation of plants, natural materials and natural light could be the way forward when it comes to tackling this problem.
Biophilia can be defined as an innate, inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature. The word originates from the Greek word ‘philia’ which means ‘love of’, resulting in biophilia being translated as a ‘love of life or living things’.
This hypothetical human tendency draws us to vegetation, which in turn, increases our physical and mental wellbeing. The lack of natural elements and increase of man-made synthetic materials can potentially lead to sensory deprivation and lack of stimuli.
Ian Drummond, Director of Indoor Garden Design explained the importance of biophilic design and what it means to him “It’s based on the love of nature for humans. For me, it really is bringing nature into the workplace in whatever form that will be. Plants make you feel happier and healthier when you’re in that environment. The whole idea for me of biophilia is to create as close to a natural environment as you can within a building. We all seek to connect with nature and be closer to it.”
Biophilic design was first implemented within the building industry in order to counteract sick building syndrome and create a more comfortable working environment for employees.
Michelle Brandon, garden designer and horticultural therapist, works with HR departments and companies to create a happier, nature-based office environment for individuals. “I put a succulent on each employee’s desk, and in that succulent there’s a little tag on it which says: I am scientifically proven to do the following – improve mood, reduce stress levels, increase productivity, increase the speed of reactions and computer task, improve attention span, and increase pain tolerance.” The inclusion of these desk plants not only aids in creating a biophilic office environment, but also creates a nature-nurture connection.
Biophilic design can be included within office environments in multiple ways, the most obvious being potted plants, desk succulents and living walls. However, inclusion can be more subtle and indirect, for example, images of trees, landscapes and lakes will also create a biophilic atmosphere.
At Indoor Garden Design, Ian discusses how biophilia is incorporated “If there’s space, we will bring green walls into offices. We also work a lot with framed green walls, green artwork. If it’s something people are doing themselves, then it’s choosing plants that are kind of hardy and easier to maintain.”
Studies have shown that biophilic design is beneficial to us in various aspects of our day-to-day lives – one of these is physical health. The introduction of plants, living walls and vegetation has been scientifically proven to improve air quality, as well as the reduction of toxins, airborne bacteria and spores.
Mental health and wellbeing also benefit from the inclusion of our green-leaved friends. With it being estimated that most people in the ‘developed world’ spend approximately 90% of their time inside buildings and cars, being around greenery and nature can reduce stress, anger and boost self-confidence and esteem. Michelle discusses, “if you think about the commute that a large amount of people do, they’re sitting down. Then, in the office they’re sitting down, they rarely take their lunch break or go outside, and then they go on another commute. They go home and they’re exhausted, so they sit down again – all indoors!”
Spending an increasing amount of time indoors means that we are missing out on the psychological and physiological benefits that the natural world provides for us.