How do we create spaces that improve the way we work and learn?

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People take notice when Oliver Heath speaks – and it would be remiss of us not to ask the Architectural Designer and Biophilic Design Ambassador for Interface (and friend of Mix) for his views on Wellbeing.

‘The launch of the WELL Building Standard in 2014 served as a landmark moment in highlighting the growing desire from across the built environment to create spaces that better support the wellness of the people living and working in them every day.

‘The wellbeing trend has grown steadily as accumulating evidence demonstrates the tangible role interior design can have on improving the physical and mental health of building occupants – as well as their levels of productivity. Interface’s Human Spaces report, for example, has found that the incorporation of natural or nature-inspired design elements into office interiors can significantly enhance the productivity and creativity of users of those spaces.

‘And as the business case for prioritising wellbeing in building design becomes increasingly clear, its role continues to grow in prominence across the built environment.

‘For educational environments in particular, prioritising wellbeing can help create positive surroundings that aid pupils’ concentration and, in doing so, helps them flourish academically. A recent project I worked on was the renovation of The Garden School in Hackney, East London. The institution offers highly specialised provisions for learners with autism, striving to nurture communication, learning and independence. To achieve these goals, it needs a special interior scheme.

‘Research has demonstrated that incorporating such elements influenced by nature – a concept known as biophilic design – can positively impact perceptual and physiological stress responses. So, nature-inspired elements are used throughout the design, incorporating materials that mimic the natural world through textures, patterns and colours, as well as images of nature on the walls.

‘By adding window seats to the space, safe ‘prospect’ views of the playground are provided, along with an abundance of rejuvenating natural light. Textured carpets from Interface, with their varied pile heights, provide restorative, tactile references to nature that also help children to de-stress and relax.

‘In addition, offices across the UK and beyond are increasingly being renovated with the physical and emotional welfare of workers in mind.

‘Such spaces don’t just have benefits for building occupants though. There is growing evidence that healthy workers are also more productive and more engaged at work, boosting their output, with positive consequences for business performance.’

Oliver always provides compelling arguments for the advantages of biophilic design and wellbeing. Here, he talks about providing some proof.

‘To provide definitive proof of the advantages of wellness in workplace design, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has launched an ambitious project that will see an existing office space renovated with a nature-inspired design scheme.

‘Called The Biophilic Office, the project will involve refurbishing an entire floor of an existing BRE office building using a variety of scales of biophilic design strategies. Working alongside core partners, such as Interface, my role in the project will be to create the nature-inspired design, and the impact of the environment will then be measured on the office workers’ wellbeing and productivity. The project will go on for two and a half years – year one is the pre-occupancy analysis of the current working conditions, followed by the design and refurbishment. The final year is focused on analysing the impact The Biophilic Office design has on the workers using the space.

‘As The BRE Biophilic Office demonstrates, the momentum for prioritising wellbeing in building design is only set to gather pace. As designers, it is important for us to watch such initiatives closely to gather the information we need to better create spaces that lead to positive outcomes for occupants – spaces where we can live, learn and work in the best possible ways.’