Feeling Trapped?

In the race for the healthiest office, biophilia may be the secret weapon to a more human workplace. 

What does spending 90 percent of our time indoors do to our physical and mental health? 

Research confirms people prefer to be in a natural space rather than a built environment— reporting increased satisfaction, improved well-being, productivity and creativity.

We are familiar with the calming effects of being outside— whether that be taking a hike or sitting on a park bench, the elements of the outdoors reduce stress, boost energy levels, and generally make us feel better. A lack of nature demonstrates converse effects and work environments void of natural contact may be potentially damaging for organizations and employees. For instance, a lack of proximity to windows or bright colors and views of roads and buildings instead of trees and the sky has a demonstrated significant negative impact on employee stress levels and reported well-being—eventually shaping office culture, absenteeism, engagement and performance.

Introducing life and nature into the office space

Biophilic design, a component of WELL, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of a built environment that impact health and well-being, responds to the deep connection between humans and nature by integrating the natural world into office spaces. Where modern lifestyles have divorced much of the human experience from nature, biophilia prioritizes a design approach that reconnects us to it both in direct and indirect ways. Adding greenery and plants, increasing natural light and access to outdoor spaces, or incorporating references to nature through sound, color, aromas, textures, or images taps into the power of nature to directly and positively impact employee health and performance. The correlation between nature and well-being is so profound that even design elements that simply evoke the feeling of nature, a sound for example, can speed psychological restoration by 37 percent after exposure to a stressor.

Step up your office game and bring the outdoors in. (Source: Corgan)

While we may not be able to take our meetings to a picnic table outside (though having permission to do that may help), small changes like those below can collectively create an enriched environment that solicits and replicates these physiological and psychological benefits. Keep in mind, for biophilia to work best, it must be incorporated beyond a single touchpoint so that people have a regular interaction with these references to nature throughout their day.


1. Try plants

Plants are an easy solution in creating a more inviting, welcoming, and residential feel, but they can also help with overall wellness by reducing dust, mold, and carbon dioxide levels. While the real deal can be adapted in a variety of ways throughout the office, artificial plants offer a more convenient alternative with the same psychological benefits—boosting mood, productivity, and creativity. Introducing plants to the workspace can be a creative opportunity to bring unexpected delight into the design. Bring the outdoors in with a vertical garden or living wall that not only makes a dramatic statement by adding visual interest to design functionality but also improves employee well-being and performance. These green walls are a great option where space is a premium—improving air quality by reducing common toxins while releasing oxygen at a larger scale than traditional office plants. It’s a great opportunity to have your marker board work double duty: brainstorming on one side and preserved moss on the other!


2. Incorporate nature-inspired artwork and graphics

Incorporating natural elements doesn’t have to be literal. Artwork and graphics can powerfully enrich the environment by eluding to common natural themes in shapes, patterns, and colors. Organic forms paired with the colors found in nature can mimic and reference the same sensorial experience to which humans are innately attracted. Large-scale elements including standard wallcoverings and custom designs offer options to make a big and inexpensive impact with the lush green wall or ceiling murals.


3. Choose natural materials

Opting for natural materials balance ultra-modern spaces or dated cubicle farms. Celebrating materials found in nature—exposed wood, cork elements, and stone like marble and granite create an approachable atmosphere. Flooring, furniture, columns, shelving and even feature walls provide several opportunities to swap outdated finished and instead source products that help us feel more comfortable and connected to nature.


The new healthy office

After designing over 50 million square feet of workplace interiors in the past five years including the first WELL Certified building in Texas, Corgan is empowering clients with the research and expertise they need to prepare for the next generation of healthy, more human buildings. With employees spending 90% of their time indoors, Corgan and WELL help clients identify common shortcomings and practical, budget-friendly interventions to care for their building’s biggest asset—the people inside.

About the Author

Beth Ann Siegel, RID, ASID, IIDA, LEED AP
Interior Designer and Interiors Studio Leader - Houston

Beth Ann is focused on designing healthy, flexible, more human spaces.  As a project interior designer at Corgran, she attends to space planning, furniture assessment, and production activities for a multitude of high-profile clients. Her portfolio includes EnLink, AAA and REth!nk Coworking spaces.  As a Project Lead, she enjoys the design process, discovering core client needs, and using technical expertise to make them a reality.  Beth Ann is in the process of becoming a WELL Accredited Professional. Connect with Beth Ann.

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