Inside Outside?

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Marianne Paulsen Morgan Lovell / Richard Strong Karndean Designflooring / Colm Dunphy PM Devereux / Ian Drummond Indoor Garden Design / Diana Monkhouse SpaceInvader / Pernille Stafford Resonate Interiors / Jonathan Goldsmith Karndean Designflooring / Claire Wilson KSS Group / Nigel Coutts BDP

In our latest Round Table we explore how clients, though their desire to recruit and retain the best staff, are looking to ‘bring the outside indoors’.

Wellbeing in the workplace has jumped up the list of priorities for clients and designers, so where on the wellbeing list does biophilic design sit?

Nigel: Well, I’ve got one client where it’s a high priority – but for the rest it’s nowhere to be seen. So for one client it means a great deal, but it’s not something that we generally consider highly when it comes to putting together a workplace package.

Pernille: I’d agree with that. It’s generally not at the top of clients’ lists. I think it’s still for us to implement to our clients, not the other way around – they don’t know about this stuff. It down to us to talk about a more natural environment, a healthier environment, and how that can benefit – other than very intelligent clients, who know what they are doing, have been through this process many times before and understand wellbeing in the workplace.

Marianne: We have a few clients who are very knowledgeable but I’d say that they are the discerning ones and there aren’t too many of them. You will get clients who say ‘Oh, let’s put some plants in’ – but that’s it. That’s their solution to health and wellbeing.

Pernille: That’s often more about the dressing of the space than wellbeing.

Nigel: I hear a lot of wellbeing talked about. I think it’s the latest craze. Wellbeing’s definitely on the agenda, but seeing it in a more holistic, environmental way is a different discussion.

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Marianne: I’ve actually had a request to not put any plants in a project because they have been scarred by bad office planting. In the same way that clients will often ask you to put some plants in, they asked us not to! They would go for artificial plants though!

Pernille: Lots of clients will go for artificial plants – but I’m afraid, sadly, that tends to be for decoration alone, it’s no more than that. There are also clients who will place artificial plants on top of storage cabinets so that people don’t dump files there. There’s a reason for it – but it has nothing to do with wellbeing.

Colm: I think this is why it’s great to have these discussions. First of all, we need to educate ourselves on the subject. The main thing then is to start educating our clients. The subject of biophilia and planting is one that can terrify any designer, never mind our clients. Therefore, as a starting point it’s great that designers do get together and develop and swap ideas.

Going back to the subject of artificial plants, we argue that research shows that they do actually have wellbeing benefits.

Marianne: I wonder if that’s because a room that looks lush will look good to us?

Pernille: …and we’re not having to look at dead plants!

Claire: What is better for you – a wilted real plant or a lush, green artificial plant? It comes down to psychology.

Marianne: We’ve got lots of call for big images of natural landscapes or seascapes – things that people find calming. Whether they link that to wellbeing, I don’t know, but there is certainly a great demand for natural elements throughout the workplace.

Richard: When it comes to our wood products, we specialise in replicating nature to the highest degree possible and I think 
what we’re now seeing is designers and clients starting to take a step away from carpet tiles and be brave enough to go the whole way through the office with plank effect products. Again, the products that are really popular right now are the stripped back, weathered, natural effects – as opposed to the overtly refined ones.

Jonathan: Being inspired by nature, all our luxury vinyl wood and stone designs tell a story. We’re certainly noticing more interest from the design community on what type of knots, grains and textures our designs offer, and importantly how they were inspired. It could be said biophilic design is also about telling a story in order for the user to feel at ease or productive. We always work with designers and end users to introduce new laying patterns using our individual plank and tile designs. Our luxury vinyl wood and stone designs are known for their authentic design, and can be laid in a harmonised way for realism.

Ian: I come from the landscaping side of things – and industry that has a poor reputation, as we’ve already heard! That’s because, for years and years, no design input went into these schemes. Lots of people still have that perception, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s not what we do. We now have to get that message across.

Nigel: People still think about that lone pot plant by the column. It was a suite of pot plants once upon a time and now it’s the last one standing.

Ian: There were companies that provided really, really cheap services – they also often provided other services as well, so didn’t have the expertise. In saying all that, we are currently pitching for two of the biggest projects we’ve ever worked on – and both are influenced heavily by wellbeing. We have got involved at a much earlier stage – and we’re looking at between 1,500 and 2,000 units for each of these projects. We’ve worked with Exeter University to look at how a lush, green environment affected people. The most interesting thing we found was that results improved once you gave people a choice of what plants they had around them. Of course, this is something that needs to be controlled – we offered a choice of three plants to people – but the results from this were extremely positive.

Claire: We did a project last year where they had a ‘field’ in the middle of the office and, around the edges, we did an adopt a plant scheme. People could choose from 20 different types of plants. It was a little bit gimmicky – but they absolutely love it. They were looking after their own plants, Tweeting about them, taking selfies with them – and it really added to the office banter. Similarly, in a studio I was working in a while back, we planted chillis and watched them grow – it became a real topic of conversation.

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Marianne: I think it’s great to see that flow of nature – to see things change, to see nature really happening.

Ian: People will see something that is not 100% right with a plant and immediately want it removed. It’s a shame. If they gave it a few weeks they would see that this is nature and it will continue to change. It is nice to see change.

Nigel: I think you can often come up with good ideas but people don’t need know how to use these spaces. People do have an affinity with the outside world though. If you ask people where they want to be, the last place they’d say would be an office! I often think that’s one of the failures of us as office designers. Biophilic design is all about that human instinct. It’s about how we can harness some of those natural elements and bring them back in and create that balance. It’s also quite a personal experience – and that’s the difficulty of it all.

Ian: It also works for certain sectors more than others. Wellbeing increases productivity and creativity – and will have more impact on, say, a media company than a legal firm.

Richard: We’re definitely aware of wellbeing being linked to spaces and more often in office and healthcare sectors. There’s a big trend at the moment for bringing the outside in, and Regatta recently demonstrated this with their ‘outdoors in’ theme when using our Karndean LooseLay to create individual neighbourhoods.

Colm: I’ve recently come back from Kuwait – which is literally a desert – and there is absolute hunger for landscapes, for a human connection with the landscape. There is a huge drive for this green environment in the desert – and there appears to be less of that here currently. Maybe that’s due to the fact that people can simply walk outside and be surrounded by nature. Similarly, in Scandinavia they tend to emphasise natural light because they get so little of it in winter months.

We consider biophilic design as a relatively modern thing, but apparently this isn’t the case.

Diana: The whole concept of planting in interiors dates back to the 1700’s. We started to go around the world and brought back exotic plants, which needed to be placed inside because they’d die outside. There was a big hiatus in the Victorian period, where our homes and our factories simply couldn’t support the growth of plants, and then we came forward to the 70’s and 80’s where it becomes the trend once again – and I wonder how much of the current trend comes from this retro movement?

Ian: We always try to put a contemporary twist on things, but there is a lot of retro planting right now.

Diana: We now also have the technology to support the growth of plants in the office – we can now create living walls in the office, for example. Maybe this is helping to boost the trend. Just as technology and agile working are working in parallel, so is technology and planting. I recently saw a German project where they have planted an indoor roof – maybe this is the next level.

Conclusion

With wellbeing being high on the agenda, planting and biophilic design will continue to increase and improve. First and foremost, however, clients need to be educated about the benefits this can bring – and not be afraid of the constantly changing ‘nature’ of nature.