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Why Biophilic Workplaces are important

Author/ Simone Oliver Posted/ 19 June 2013

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, was the first to identify a phenomenon we all knew existed but couldn’t quite articulate: Nature Deficit Disorder.  It was the first book to bring together research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development – physical, emotional and spiritual.  A lack of connection to nature was a leading cause for childhood depression and obesity.

We now understand that environment based education dramatically improves a child’s progression at school (up to 25% improvement), and their development in problem solving, critical thinking, decision making and, most importantly, creativity.

Any parent of a newborn baby quickly learns that crying can be settled by walking the baby outside.The inborn dependence a developing child has with the natural world is one way of describing the concept of biophilia, the innate emotional affiliation of human beings with other living organisms.

Designers are realising  that biophilia plays a crucial role in wellbeing & performance in the workplace.  The human brain responds and connects  to natural settings that replicate or biomimic the kind of landscape or savanna that best suit our basic biological needs.

These are some basic principles we employ in our projects at Geyer:

PROSPECT & REFUGE - A shared environment offering both privacy and eating zones.

NATURAL LIGHT & VIEWS - Ability to connect to natural settings, aiding the learning process.

ORGANIC PATTERN & FORM - Organic patterns and form indicating geological strata or fallen leaves and curved canopies that can provide refuge.

MYSTERY & FASCINATION - People possess a curiosity for most things and we harness this innate desire through the use of organic technologies that invite the user to use touch, sight and sound.

Mystery can be embedded into more static environments such as Yayoi Kasama’s installation FireFlies on Water. With its carefully constructed interior elements of lights, mirrors and water, the viewer transcends their sense of self through biomimicry.

But what of our innate and emotional affiliation with nature? A shared vulnerability and consciousness of depleting natural resources galvanises our connection to other living things. As such the architectural world is starting to truly focus on a new dimension of greening buildings by considering solutions that might provide food for local communities (such as SOA’s building in central Paris with propagates a species of banana,  now extinct in Europe, as a facade element).

But what if we could interact with buildings as we do we do other life forms? We are on the cusp of being able to create spaces that are responsive and alive, which adjust to our preferences, our presence and our personal profiles in a way that enables a two way interaction between building and people on a new and intuitive level.  There lies our challenge as designers – our ability to keep up with understanding how to integrate rapidly evolving technology interfaces.

Enter the world of ubiquitous technology where tiny embedded computers fit into our environment without our awareness.  What if biometric monitors worn in our clothing were able to modulate heating and lighting conditions in a room as we entered a meeting room? What if tracking tags enables such an accurate picture of efficient space utilisation that we could reverse the need for built space.

What if fabrics could emit light or shade as well as colour similar to a chameleon. Carpet may not only offer organic pattern, but track our movement and utilisation of space. What if digital signage could customise to you and your intended destination via your access card or mobile phone as you approach it? If your security card can tell a building where you are and what you are doing then an RFID interface might make the building more responsive – turning on your favourite music, adjusting any desk or chair to a predetermined ergonomic profile, turning your computer on and making you coffee.

We are already halfway there with rapidly evolving mobile phones, radio frequency ID tags (RFIDs), GPS, interactive smart boards and surfaces.  It’s only a matter of time until billions of ubiquitous devices can be embedded into every location and in every context like the breathing reacting and transmitting cells of plant life.

Simone Oliver, Geyer’s Design Leader, was recently invited by Interface to speak about the impact of biophilia on workplace design at the recent 2013 GreenCities conference. Read more about the Interface Design Talks at GreenCities here.