As long ago as da Vinci's early dsigns for his flying machine, technical design has drawn from nature's brilliance. Studies in biomimicry show time and time again the successful transferrence of nature's design skill to solve contemporary challenges. Nature has, in fact, been a source of inspiration for centuries, with generations seeking to improve and enhance their environment and wellbeing.
In 2017, the Norwegians were voted as the happiest people in a survey by the Sustainable Development Solution Network for the United Nations. Much of this has been credited to their attitude towards life and nature. Being outdoors is like a religion in Norway with every opportunity to converse with the natural environment taken. Sunday walks, snow-shoeing, socialising alfresco, wild water swimming, touring the fjords or skiiing, of course.
The Scandinavians certainly seem to have something, as their neighbours also credit their happiness levels to a connection with nature.The hygge movement was popularised by happy Danes celebrating a richer, more natural way of life. Much of the movement is based on the principles of creating warm and cosy places to join with family and enjoying the natural benefits of the outdoor environment, no matter what the weather. In fact, there are many similarities between the hygge ethos and the principles of biophilia.
Many other areas of study have referred to the impact of a connection with the natural environment. Pedagogy has drawn on the science of nature and introduced numerous elements into the learning environment with more schools adopting the practice of creating the most comfortable environment to maximise children's ability to learn. Methods include spending the day in the classroom without shoes and providing areas furnished with soft seating. Classrooms are now designed to incorporate stimulation for all the senses with texture, sound and light all taken into account.
Today's businesses are looking more directly to nature in an effort to create more sympathetic work spaces to support their employees with the aim of improving their health and wellbeing and therefore their ability to perform. Getting back to nature or as office designers call it, biophilia, is as relevant today as it has ever been. Organisations are being forced to confront the impact of stress on their workers with more employees reporting higher stress levels and a growing awareness regarding mental health issues. In terms of helping employees with stress management there are many studies, dating as far back as 2007, measuring the impact of nature on reducing cortisol levels which helps reduce stress whilst boosting creativity. But biophilia in office design isn't just about scattering a few plants around the office. It incorporates a far wider scope - maximising natural light, reducing hard lines and incorporating natural shapes and curves in furniture and decor, the mix of textiles and textures, improved air quality and of course direct access to the outdoors; bringing the outdoor in, if you like.
Of course, if you'd like some expert advice on ensuring your new office is biophilia-friendly, you can speak to our commercial design team but, in the meantime, being ever so helpful, we've pulled together our 8 top tips for incorporating some of the elements from the biophilia school of design into your workspace today.
1. Natural Light - exposure to natural light helps regulate melatonin production. Maximising natural light in the office environment through full height glazing, for example, has scienticially proven to benefit the mental health of workers. Exposure to sunlight tops up vitamin D levels, which is proven to elevate mood, reduce the risk of cancer, heart, disease, stroke and diabetes and aids sleep. It's a no-brainer. And it's not just the windows. Don't forget about circadian lighting, low-glare workstations and daylight modelling for a more conducive work environment.
2. Encourage employees to go for a walk - being in a natural environment; even if its taking a lunchtime walk in a park, helps focus the mind, giving the impression of a longer break from the office environment. Employees who spend even just 20 minutes walking in green space are more refreshed and enjoy restored concentration levels. And because exposure to sunlight tops up levels of vitamin D, if you can, try and create some outside seating space where employees can socialise, have meetings or just soak up that all important vitamin D and you'll soon see the benefits.
3. Textures and natural fibres - sensory stimulation fosters creative thinking and stimulates the brain. So mix it up and play with textures and shapes on your walls, your flooring and anywhere else that works for you. Experiment with less traditional seating arrangements - there are some great designs around for more fluid, communal workspace areas, soft seating and fun elements ranging from slides to fireman's poles. It also helps in breaking down barriers to building relationships, improving communication and nurturing innovative thinking.
4. Outdoors-indoors - office design has upped its game when it comes to bringing the outdoors in through the installation of living walls, arboretums or an internal oasis to commune and meet around. Aquariums can be used very effectively as part of the design rather than an afterthought in the reception area and water features range from fishponds to fountains, creating peaceful havens to soothe or stimulate.
6. Air quality - a must when it comes to your employee welfare. Consider increased ventilation systems, well-maintained air-conditioning systems zoned for flexible control and methods for reducing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and microbe and mould control. Easier to consider when planning a full fitout but with continuous monitoring of your air quality you can start to isolate the critical areas for improvement.
8. Colour schemes - Colours inspired by the natural environment have proven to have a positive effect on mood and performance. Adapt your colour scheme to optimise the space for its function. For more information check out our article on the impact of colour on your office environment.
9. Get moving - supporting your employees in staying fit is one of the WELL Building Institute's criteria for a healthy workspace and this can be done in lots of ways. Gym memberships, agile working, hot-desking, standing desks or standing meetings, office exercise bikes or team step challenges - the list is endless. Get creative with it and see what you can do to help your employees stay active.
If you'd like to discuss your office refurbishment, call the team. We'd love to hear from you.
Sources - twincities.com, mentalfloss.com, earth911.com, businessinsider.com, thealternativedaily.com, wellcertified.com