5 July 2021

Biophilic design – naturally great.

Biophilic design seeks to increase people’s health and wellbeing within the spaces we frequently occupy, creating environments that respond to our inherent desire to connect with the natural world.

Following the restrictions that kept us away from offices and built workspaces, there’s been a renewed appetite for communing with nature as much as possible in our daily lives.

JTI's beautifully biophilic workplace

“With our knowledge and sense of responsibility… we can create new environments that are ecologically sound, aesthetically satisfying, economically rewarding.” 

  • René Dubos

Understanding biophilic design

The renowned Professor of Social Ecology, and one of the pioneers of biophilic design, Stephen Kellert, describes biophilia as: 

“The inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature that even in the modern world continues to be critical to people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

Humans long for a connection with nature. So, bringing the outdoors into our offices can help ignite feelings of calm and comfort. By stimulating our senses naturally, we can enjoy the attendant benefits of increased happiness, productivity, connection, and creativity.

Data from 2015/16 showed that a total of 11.7 million working days were lost to stress, making it incredibly clear that companies needed to be doing more to support their workforce in every way they can. 

Current predictive research has found that by 2050, a staggering 66% of the developed world will be urbanised, which will make our connection and access to nature a more challenging everyday task. It’s never been more important to start bringing the natural world into our workspaces, helping to fulfil our innate desire to connect to nature. 

What is biophilic design?

It’s much more than plants. Biophilic office design operates at the very core of how humans work to achieve the greatest results possible for individual and collaborative growth. Our working patterns, and the environments we perform our tasks, are under the continued influence of Circadian Rhythms – these are the changes in our physical and mental states that alter our behaviour over a period of roughly 24 hours. 

The primary drivers for these changes are through our reactions to light and darkness. It’s important to design spaces that provide people with natural or artificial light that will help them reset their Circadian Rhythms, positively influencing wellbeing and performance.

A Savannah state of mind

The ultimate goal of biophilic interior design is to create spaces that restore calm, aid focus, and generate a willingness and excitement that makes us want to be there. 

Biophilic design – naturally great.

The Savannah Hypothesis is a well-accepted theory that demonstrates how well human beings react to the structure of lush, natural environments. Historically, this would have provided an observable vantage point and shelter from predators. For a modern workplace, it represents a healthy environment that promotes focus and productivity. 

“It’s what we crave because we know instinctively that we must have it to survive. We must breathe Nature, smell Nature, feel it, hear it, touch it, live it, eat it to be whole. We must be immersed in it.”

Natural results

It’s no surprise to see that great biophilic design for our spaces creates impressive, and measurable, results. Research illustrates that 10% of employee absence can be attributed to workspaces without a connection to the natural environment. The same studies show some genuinely remarkable statistics:

  • Call processing increases in speed between 6-12%
  • Higher results on mental function and memory recall tests by 10-25%
  • Wellbeing increases by 15 %
  • Productivity increases by 6%
  • Creativity increases by 15%

Creating a workplace that smiles: JTI

We partnered with JTI to transform their workspace in MediaCity into an award-winning office design that brings smiles to their people. Using innovative and striking elements of biophilic design, we delivered a truly landmark office environment.

Biophilic design – naturally great.

Creating a sense of retreat

We developed a ‘Zen Zone’ for a sense of retreat, with a flooring design that imitates natural moss growing through it. The area allows employees to see across the floorplate and take in the views across MediaCity, invoking feelings of calm and safety.  

Bringing the outdoors inside

The eye-level natural planting schemes not only enhance the aesthetic experience but also help to purify the air and absorb sound. For maintenance purposes, we used aesthetic plants in the ceiling, mimicking natural foliage and aiding the acoustics of the workspace.

Natural curves

Through an organic layout, we led people into spaces with soft curved seating and rounded desks that instil feelings of comfort and protection.

Biophilic materials

Using wood, stone, and other natural materials, we reached for a defined communion with nature as much as possible.

Maximising natural light

Placing seating near windows gives employees greater access to natural light, and the exterior landscape views encourage creativity and a sense of calm.

A connected environment

The design was inspirational as well as functional – actively promoting the sort of belonging, connectedness and wellness that makes people more productive. It was about creating a place that fills people with pride, even before they walk through the door.

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"This was a project that will always stay in my memory and heart. I can attest first-hand the powerful impact of a very carefully designed space. During this period, we had a 62% productivity gain as our people continuously collaborated. Thank you!!!"

Paulo Garcia Lopes, VP General Manager at JTI

A sustainable environment

The project had sustainability at its core. From the power consumption to the type of furniture and furnishing selected, everything was considered to make it an environmentally friendly workplace – resulting in a SKA gold award. SKA rating is an environmental assessment method, benchmark and standard for nondomestic fit-outs.

With JTI recently moving to new premises in London, the legacy of this design will live on for new companies to make people smile through biophilic design for many years to come.

Next steps

If supporting the wellbeing of your people is a top priority for your business, you can even go on to gain certifications such as the WELL Building Standard. You can read more about the WELL Building Standard & Fitwel accreditations here.

If you’d like to find out more about how biophilia and human-centred design can benefit your workplace, we can share some case studies and discuss the best route for your organisation.

Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 3
Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 3

With many organisations now viewing hybrid working as a competitive advantage, it’s more important than ever to engage with people, to guide workplace decisions.

In this third issue of the Workplace [R]Evolution, we’re bringing you the latest data, exploring how to lead with employee experience and sharing the latest examples of hybrid workplaces.

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