Biophilic design is used everywhere from hotels to gyms to homes. It’s based on the concept that people are happier and healthier when they can connect with nature—whether they’re working, relaxing, or even shopping.
biophilia – a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms (source)
This beneficial connection with nature is especially meaningful now, as we all struggle with the very unnatural demands of keeping ourselves safe from COVID-19 (mask-wearing, physical distancing, sanitizing, etc.). Biophilic design is a healthier and more wellness-focused approach to office design—but it’s not enough to just scatter a few organic elements throughout the office.
Biophilic Design in the Office: Use Organic Shapes
While geometric shapes can be visually striking, they can also be jarring to the eye—especially when they’re used exclusively. In any office design, you can provide visual relief by incorporating organic shapes and layouts.
You can also mimic nature by allowing for some asymmetry and softer shapes. After all, there aren’t many rectangles in nature! Instead, look to things like hexagons and cylinders (which are found in ice crystals and plant cells).
Incorporate fluidity into your design by adding mobile elements like movable dividers and breakout spaces that can connect and disconnect as needed. This evokes the changeability of nature and creates a less stressful, less rigid environment.
Biophilic Design in the Office: Use Organic/Natural Materials and Textures
Bring the outdoors in with a mix of natural elements in both the décor and surfaces. Wood slatting on walls and ceilings is a great way to bring in wood elements, and they’ll last longer than wood floors as they get less wear.
Live plants are a very common element of biophilic design—and you don’t need to achieve this with a costly living wall (although that’s a great idea if the budget allows). Use a mix of individual live plants throughout the office rather than concentrating the greenery in one spot.
Biophilic Design in the Office: Access to Natural Light
Allow light from windows to filter through as much of the office as possible. When natural light isn’t available, use daylight bulbs to mimic natural light. Be sure to avoid fluorescent bulbs as they give a harsh light and don’t provide the benefits that natural light and/or daylight bulbs offer.
A survey of European office workers in 2018 found that 40% of them were dealing with poor lighting in the office every day. This impacted their productivity and wellbeing and they felt more stressed and depressed under these conditions. The effects were worse during the winter when many arrived at work in the dark and went home in the dark. Employees need access to good quality natural light during the workday. And having appropriate adjustable lighting is an important part of accessible workplace design.
Biophilic Design in the Office: Natural Colors
Think about how different colors are found in nature and use this inspiration to incorporate a natural color palette into your office. For example, bright blue, yellow, red, orange, and purple are all found in nature, but in smaller quantities (such as flowers). These are nature’s accent colors. Green, brown, and beige tend to be seen in more places and over large areas—they provide the base colors for a landscape.
Drawing inspiration from nature to guide how and where you use different colors and shades is a subtle—but important—element of biophilic design.
Biophilic design offers so many advantages: to health, productivity, wellbeing, and both the internal and external environment. While we’ve covered the main components, other considerations you might include in your office design are air (ventilation, temperature, and humidity), water (small fountains or water features inside, views of water outside), animals (aquariums, gardens, attracting animals with outdoor feeders and landscaping), and fire (done with great care and thought, of course!).
There are also features that bring indirect experiences of nature compatible with biophilic design. These include things like art that evokes nature, sounds and scents of nature, and tactile art/objects that give a feeling of connecting with nature.