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The Biophilic Office: What It Is And Why It Works

Topic: Biophilic Design
The biophilic office: what it is and why it works

If there is one field where biophilic design is gaining popularity it's office design.
Many people complain that offices are often unwelcoming, cold and sterile places and including biophilic elements in the design can improve the situation.
Even more, it has to do with productivity. Workers’ productivity is one of the top priorities for companies and research has proved* that biophilic design can have a positive effect on it, making people less stressed, more concentrated and creative.

Great, but what makes a biophilic office?

Greenery

The reasons why greenery is good for our wellbeing are many and range from stress reduction* to air purification. There are several ways to include plants in an office. The first and less invasive is using planters around the space, which will also work as room dividers.

View of a biophilic office where planters of different heights introduce greenery while partitioning the space.
Credit: Nordea Greenest Offices. Design by Workplace Solutions. Photo by Adam Grzesik

Other options include installing vertical gardens or even building the architecture around a tree.

View of a biophilic office sitting area with a vertical garden wall behind it.
Credit: Euronet Office - Warsaw (via Officelovin). Design by The Design Group
View of a biophilic office canteen designed around a tree.
Credit: Life Office – Utrecht. Design by Ditt Officemakers. Photo by Sabine Franke & Marjolein Thijse

Imitation of nature

Wherever direct access to nature is not available, research says that it is helpful to mimic it*. This can be done in a number of ways that include natural-looking shapes and patterns.

Biophilic office with curved wood ceiling recalling the shape of a tree and swings hanging from the ceiling.
Credit: Smart Dubai Offices. Design by dwp.

Irregularly moving features are another way of mimicking nature in interiors.
Going back to Milan Design Week, visitors of Elle Décor at Work were greeted with a digital wall that translated their movement into colourful moving dots. The movement of these dots is irregular yet always similar to itself, in the sense that the wall always looks full of moving dots of some kind. And these are exactly the features of natural movements. Think of when the grass is moved by a breeze: it's impossible to predict the precise way in which each blade of grass will move, yet the overall movement will always be some kind of swing.

An interactive wall translating passing people into moving dots.
Elle Décor at Work. Credit: Elle Décor. Photo by Stefano Pavesi.

Intriguing spaces

If you think at an office as a big room with aligned desks and chairs, that’s not a biophilic office.
One of the objectives of biophilic design is making interiors intriguing and interesting, in the attempt to imitate natural environments.

Biophilic office with organic shaped desks and trees in between the tables.
Credit: Open AD. Photo by Maris Lagzdins.
Open space office with curved walls.
Credit: Ditt Officemakers

In a biophilic office, it’s common to see areas defined by plants or acoustic panels. In biophilic terms, this adds a sense of prospect and refuge to the space, which mimics natural environments. From a practical point of view, it's a great way to create different spaces for different activities. Shielded spaces are ideal for individual focus work, while more open areas can be used for breaks or as informal meeting rooms.

Open space office divided in smaller and cozier sitting areas using plants.
Credit: NAB Village Customer Innovation Centre (via Woods Bagot).
Office open space where the space is divided using acoustic room dividers and wood partitions.
Credit: Bakken & Bæck Offices – Oslo. Design by Kvistad. Photo by Lasse Fløde.

Overall, a biophilic office is a very welcoming space. Lounge areas are comfortable and conference rooms often look like an inviting dining room.

Lounge area in a biophilic office with inviting armchairs and plants.
Credit: Bakken & Bæck Offices – Amsterdam. Design by Kvistad. Photo by Tekla Evelina Severin.
Lounge area in a biophilic office enclosed in a colorful acoustic panelling.
Credit: Bakken & Bæck Offices – Oslo. Design by Kvistad. Photo by Lasse Fløde.

Regeneration areas

We all know that we can’t stay focused for hours and hours in a raw. If even we try, our productivity will inevitably decrease after some time, which will make us even more nervous as we feel we’re not working well.
The solution is taking a break, and a biophilic office has dedicated spaces to make breaks as regenerating as possible.

Wooden retreat pods in a biophilic office with a shape that recalls a pinecone.
Close-up of the indoor of a wooden retreat pod with a shape that recalls a pinecone.
Credit: Designboom.

Healthy interiors

Keeping interiors healthy also means taking into account other elements like air quality and lighting.
To make the quality of the air as good as possible, it's important to check the emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) of all materials used, and air-purifying plants can give an extra help.
Light is another element that has a strong impact on our wellbeing. Letting in as much natural light as possible is key in a biophilic office, but artificial lighting is also designed with health in mind. These days, artificial lighting is way more sophisticated than just an ON-OFF switch and can actually improve wellbeing. The complex name for it is Human Centric Lighting, and what it does is conceiving lighting systems according to our biological cycles. What's even better is that Human Centric Lighting is now included in homes as well as offices because the latest technologies are making it more accessible than ever before! Not surprisingly, it has been one of the key lighting design innovations presented at Milan Design Week!

View of a working station in a biophilic office with lush plants hanging from the walls.
Close-up of the plants.
Credit: Elle Décor at Work. Photos by DforDesign

Comparing a biophilic office with the latest news in workspace design (that we discussed in a previous post), we can see many similarities. The latest tendency goes towards a so-called worker-centered design, where people’s health and wellbeing is in first place. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Indeed, biophilic principles are applied more and more often in office design and that’s all to our advantage!

* Sources

 
 
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