Biophilia: the benefits of nature in the workplace

Posted by Hayley Lambert on 05/02/2016

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What is biophilia? Interaction explain the benefits of a biophilic design in the workplace.

With a full-size Ficus Fibrosa tree at the heart of its new office, Interaction's on-going client, Magna Housing is one of a growing number of employers bringing nature into the workplace. 

Biophilic design, the use of natural elements to enhance buildings, is fast gaining momentum. We’re animals after all with a strong natural inclination to be close to green things, or so the biophilia hypothesis goes.

It was Harvard University entomologist E. O. Wilson who put forward the case in the 1980s that humans have a deep affinity for, and need to connect with, the natural world. New evidence about the effect of workplace design suggests this is most certainly the case.

The statistics

A global study into the impact of office design by the virtual campaign forum Human Spaces has revealed the full extent of the benefits offered to workers by offices that incorporate natural elements.

The study of 7,600 workers in 16 countries found that those who worked in spaces with green or other natural features reported a 15% higher level of wellbeing and are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall.

Importantly, the report found that office design was so important to workers that a whopping third (33%) of respondents said it would unequivocally affect their decision whether or not to work somewhere. But perhaps this result should come as no surprise – humans like other animals need the right habitat in which to flourish.

Humans and nature

Wilson’s claim that humans have an inherent affinity to the natural world now seems like common sense. Visit any office, and chances are that a number of desks will be graced by the strappy leaves of spider plants. It’s an attempt, if a modest one, to connect with nature. And it’s this connection that needs to be ramped up.

There is a multitude of studies, in addition to the Human Spaces report, that demonstrate that truly green environments can positively impact people’s behaviour and, in the case of workers, performance.

Interaction created this striking Stonehenge ‘Think Tank’ situated in Arts and Humanities Research Council's (AHRC) Swindon office. It is designed to inspire and encourage original thinking.

In projects like Magna Housing and Verisk Maplecroft (see below), Interaction created two very different workspaces but both designed around the theme of biophilia. Magna Housing have taken an organic approach by including natural, earthy colours and plant inspired window graphics to create a calming and welcoming environment. Verisk Maplecroft, on the other hand, included a variety of plants around their office with bright colours and cracking views of the city.

So what does a biophilic workspace look like?

Logic dictates that if plant life is to flourish, natural light is required too. And sure enough, there’s a strong body of research that demonstrates that high levels of natural light are good for people too. In other words, create an office where plants can thrive and the chances are that the people will be happy too.

As well as good natural light levels, an office design that incorporates elements of the natural world might also have views on to nature, natural textures, organic materials and naturalistic colours plus recuperation spaces to restore mental and physical energy.

Biophilic design applied

Interaction’s recent interior design scheme for Magna Housing applied biophilic design principles to the their new offices in Dorchester. Our client wanted to create an earthy and serene workplace, encouraging staff to draw energy from the natural features around them.

Natural elements are in fact fundamental to a growing number of projects we undertake as businesses look more to the workplace as a tool for attracting and retaining staff. Take risk management consultancy Verisk Maplecroft’s new offices in Bath (image below). This major refurbishment scheme included the placement of over 30 plants, with green used as a highlight colour throughout. 

However it doesn’t just have to be about having greenery, as the theory of biophilic design can be found within many features of the built environment as most manufacturers recognise the desire for natural elements to be used, for example, flooring, graphics and imagery in general.

Biophilic design is more than a ‘nice to have’. The use of nature to harness workers’ full potential is becoming an essential aspect of modern, progressive office space. Businesses investing heavily in the approach include the likes of Apple with Campus 2 and Google’s Dublin Campus.

In short, biophilic design is a powerful drawcard in the war for talent.

And that’s because more than anything else people want to be treated like people, who have varying emotions, psychological and physical needs.

A biophilic workplace responds to us as human beings.


Interested in other key design factors for attracting and retaining staff? Read our ‘War for Talent’ article published last year.