Biophilic Design in The Workplace

  • Apr 3, 2017

By Ashlynne Gartner and Rachel Mattes

Here at The Beck Group, our sustainable objective for the month of March was to promote Biophilia. While a seemingly daunting task, promoting biophilic design in our workplace has the potential for huge impact on the lives of our employees, our clients, and the users of the buildings we design and build.  If done well, our employees and our clients can benefit from spaces that are healthier, happier and more connected to components of the natural environment. This encompasses everything from educating our employees on the numerous benefits of biophilic design, to engaging and promoting biophilia in our offices nationwide, as well as incorporating aspects of biophilic interactions into the projects we design and build.  We have learned that the endless realm of biophilic design encompasses much more than the token green wall, or coveted exterior view from the corner office.  However, it’s okay to start small.  By beginning with grassroots efforts within our own workspace, we can expand outward the many positive effects of incorporating a desk plant into our daily lives.

In order to master the technique of integrating beneficial biophilic design elements into our workplace, it is helpful to first define Biophilia. Edward O. Wilson first coined this term as “the innate tendency that humans have to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.” This we can get behind. It seems such an obvious connection that people are drawn to natural components such as the sound of water, the feel of filtered sunlight on a late summer day, or a backyard full of bouncing puppies. Seriously, who doesn’t like puppies? However, society has gone farther with this knowledge to further break apart Biophilic Design into easily palatable portions to aid us, as designers, builders and conscientious citizens.

A recent publication by the environmental consulting firm, Terrapin Bright Green, elaborates on the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.  These patterns can be divided into 3 categories; Nature in the Space, Natural Analogues, and Nature of the Space.

  • Nature in the Space constitutes what most of us might image as traditional green-loving design. This might include elements with a visual connection to nature, airflow variability, or dynamic lighting.  The purpose of these patterns is to engage and stimulate our senses.
  • The next category, Natural Analogues, incorporates objects, shapes, textures and colors which provide an indirect connection to nature.  Natural building materials like wood and stone, as well as patterns and textiles that reflect the natural environment can work together to remind us of our historically agrarian roots.
  • The final category is Nature in Space. This category provides a design practice for what most of us process as instinct. For example, the element of Prospect gives us views from a distance to plan and survey, while the element of Refuge facilitates contemplation and protection.  It’s no mystery that the spaces we inhabitant directly influence how we think, feel and live.  The next step involves finding innovative methods for integrating these patterns into our own workplace.

While our corporate headquarters already incorporates some of these Patterns of Biophilic Design, and also enjoys the close proximity of Beck Park, Klyde Warren Park, and other nearby Dallas amenities, we thought we’d make an extra effort this month to amplify existing conditions.  After all, our employees work really hard to design and build the best buildings we possibly can, and they definitely deserve to benefit from the many positive effects associated with biophilic design such as increased energy levels, productivity and better indoor air quality. So how did we accomplish this biophilic boost in the course of a mere month?

First, our sustainability team conducted multiple educational lectures and discussions to raise awareness of the complex components and endless opportunities available with Biophilic Design. Next, to generate excitement for Earth Day next month, the office common areas and kitchen were sprinkled with a selection of indoor plants, even raffling off a couple to some lucky winners during meetings and events. Finally, our Work/Play architecture group partnered with our local SPCA to take a break in the park with some adorable adoptable canine companions. These efforts may seem like such a small step to propel forward our biophilic initiatives in the coming months – but that’s okay! We have learned that even a small movement in a positive direction can make a big difference, and the more awareness that is raised regarding the variety of biophilic design strategies available, the healthier, more engaging and connected our future buildings will become.