There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that, by incorporating biophilic design into our built environments, we can increase our health and wellbeing. Biophilic design acknowledges that we are instinctively connected to nature and that, through exploring this connection within the spaces that we live, relax and work in, we can positively influence our physical and psychological health. Oliver Heath, Director of Oliver Heath Designs, knows his stuff.
Currently, more than 130 million working days are lost to sickness absence every year in Britain and working-age ill health costs the economy a hundred billion pounds a year. Biophilic design in the workplace has been shown to increase productivity by 15%, increase creativity, improve staff retention and, crucially, reduce absenteeism and presenteeism – potentially saving businesses thousands of pounds. So with statistics like this, you may ask yourself why the uptake is so slow.
Fundamental to this is a lack of creative thinking about Biophilic principles and a lack of vision; focusing on short-term costs rather than long-term human benefits. But with the World Green Building Council suggesting that 90% of typical business operating costs are attributed to staff – exploring ways of improving productivity and wellbeing makes good financial sense.
Clearly, this is a subject that needs more rigorous investigation and research if we are to increase the uptake and creation of happy, healthier, more productive workplaces. Oliver Heath Design is currently working alongside the BRE in Watford to launch the Biophilic Office project – a three-year project to refurbish an entire floor of a working office on their campus to investigate the many benefits of the ethos. The approach is to deliver three separate spaces with low, medium and high end intervention levels; the concept aiming to demonstrate the return on investment of biophilic design within an existing office space at a variety of scales.
Working alongside a host of core supporting partners, such as Interface, Dulux, Royal Ahrend, Waldmann Lighting and Ecophon, the project is pooling skills and knowledge whilst undergoing in-depth pre- and post-occupancy studies. The pre-occupancy study will set a baseline for how the existing space is performing for the occupants. The results will inform the design process and contrast, we hope, with improved wellbeing and productivity demonstrated by the post-occupancy study once the project is completed later this year and into 2020. The data capture and timescale of this study makes the project unique. It will allow the project to provide guidance and evidence to those hoping to adopt biophilic design considerations within their refurbishments to promote health and wellbeing within the office environment.
During the first and last stages, the office will be assessed in terms of daylight, indoor air quality, acoustic, thermal and humidity comfort. The staff will take part in confidential health evaluations, making use of wearable technology and online questionnaires. These assessments will quantify the positive influence of biophilic design on productivity levels, health and wellbeing and show how such improvements bring rewards for landlords, occupiers, developers and those within the office and wider environment generally.
The biophilic design process will involve three tiers of intervention:
The first tier will focus on the low-cost elements that staff can input themselves, such as rearranging furniture, images of nature on walls and desk plants.
The second will be more akin to a standard refurbishment, with lower cost changes such as repainting walls, biomimetic carpet tiles, timber cladding on walls and an organised planting scheme.
Finally, the third tier of intervention looks at some of the most cutting edge materials and technologies and will incorporate water features, green walls and circadian lighting systems designed to mimic natural lighting.
The belief is that such interventions will positively impact on workplace related stress and aid mental and physical recuperation. The project will allow staff to feel valued, in turn increasing their desire to work in the office and increasing staff retention levels.
Increasingly, we are seeing clients ask for proof points about how their money is spent and the value that it will bring. No longer can we simply approach projects with a straightforward visual design approach – we need to recognise that the spaces we surround ourselves in have a profound effect on our mental, physical and emotional states. Human-centred design has the ability to create a real need for the services that we offer, so we must ensure we have the evidence that demonstrates its value. The BRE Biophilic Office project will do just that – whilst creating spaces that are happier, healthier and, of course, more productive.