Bringing the Outdoors In: The Role of Biophilia in the Workplace.

Throughout the last thousand years, the advancement of technology has largely changed our society for the better. In its earliest days, technology revolutionized how humans farmed and traded; since then, it has transformed the way we communicate, travel, build cities and cure diseases.

Despite all the good it has done, widespread technological innovation has also harmed one of humanity’s earliest relationships: our connection with nature. It’s widely understood that humans have an innate attraction to and appreciation of the natural world, with research indicating that spending time in the great outdoors is beneficial to our physical and psychological health. But as industrialization and the rise of 9-to-5 office jobs forced more people indoors, our connection to nature has weakened. Indeed, many of us will spend upwards of seven hours each day looking at a screen instead of absorbing the sounds and sights of the world around us.

These days, most of our lives revolve around technology, and it’s unlikely that humans will ever be able to fully “unplug” from the computers, phones and apps that enable us to work and live. But with mental health becoming more of a priority across the country, some employers are choosing to bring the benefits of nature indoors through biophilic design.

Let There Be Light

Natural sunlight provides a host of benefits to humans, from aiding in the production of Vitamin D and melatonin to regulating our circadian rhythms and improving sleep quality. Unfortunately, many of us in the developed world will spend up to three-quarters of our days shielded from the sun’s rays, whether that’s at home or in the office. We’re also flooded with artificial light sources like fluorescent lights and computer screens during this time, which some experts say is wreaking havoc on our mental and physical health.

Recognizing the crucial role that natural light plays in our overall health and well-being, many organizations are trashing their fluorescents in favor of windows and skylights that flood the office with sunshine. Open floorplans, which have gained immense popularity in the last decade, also have the added benefit of allowing light to travel through spaces unobstructed. Employers that are working in spaces that don’t allow for much light are getting creative too—employing visual trickery using sleek surfaces like mirrors that reflect light throughout the office.

In our design for WCM Investment Management, we were faced with the unique challenge of balancing the employees’ need for privacy while satisfying the innate desire for natural light. Open floorplans aren’t the most conducive for private, one-on-one meetings, so our solution was to design glass-enclosed micro-offices that provide privacy without sacrificing the access to natural daylight that is essential for our well-being.

Mimicking Natural Shapes and Patterns

There is perhaps no interior less organic and natural than the standard corporate office space–gray walls and carpets, generic office art and rows of cubicles don’t exactly make employees and guests feel as if they are “one with nature.” Fortunately, the typical “corporate office layout” seems to be losing its hold on today’s businesses, which are instead opting to include more organic materials and patterns in their designs—think wood and stone for walls and floors, natural textiles, and furniture that imitates shapes and forms found in the great outdoors.

We were thrilled to incorporate some of these organic elements into our designs for The Kleingers Group in West Chester, OH. If you happen to pay the office a visit, you’ll spot plenty of warm, natural materials and organic shapes, including a giant live-edge wood conference table in one of the main meeting rooms. The result is a space that is both welcoming and sophisticated.


Fifty Shades of Green

One of the easiest ways to incorporate the natural world into a built environment? Plants. Turns out, leafy greens aren’t just good for our diet—they can help reduce stress, boost productivity, and potentially reduce sickness by decreasing carbon dioxide. Whether it’s a striking, sprawling living wall or strategically placed planters throughout the office, incorporating greenery is both aesthetically pleasing and physically beneficial to employees. And even if you don’t have many windows to work with, there are plenty of plants that can thrive in low-light conditions.

The living wall we installed in the central atrium of Stagnaro Distributing’s warehouse in Erlanger, KY is one of SHP’s most prominent examples of how we can inject life and vitality into a constructed space. The word “warehouse” typically conjures up a mental image of a huge, dark space lined with endless shelves—but the Stagnaro Distributing warehouse is teeming with life in the form of roots and trailing leaves. We’re also big fans of plants at our own offices at 312 Plum, where you’ll see plenty of air-filtering snake plants and potted palms in our common spaces, work areas and conference rooms.

While we’ll probably never revert to our original hunter-gatherer roots or go back to toiling in the fields for 12 hours a day, that doesn’t mean that we are doomed to a life without sunlight or greenery. With proper planning and intentional design choices, the modern workforce can fully embrace the power of technology in the office without losing its connection to the natural world.