Biophilia and its contribution to wellbeing.

Although Biophilia as a term is thought to have been created by respected psychologist Erich Fromm, it was Edward Wilson’s 1984 book Biophilia that is recognised to have popularised it. Biophilia which can be translated to “love of life” is the proposal that we humans are innately and biologically attracted to living things and have a wish and desire to interact with nature.

Whilst it took until 1984 for this to be given a tag the essence of Biophilia has been understood for far longer with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the designer of Fallingwater, devised the term organic architecture and who said: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

This use of what we now term biophilia or biophilic design can be seen in both the exterior and interior design of Fallingwater but there are many other examples in his work including the stunning interior designed for Johnson Wax, which opened in 1939. When asked many people find themselves drawn to images like this but can find it difficult to explain why. Biophilia, done well, has an ability to stimulate our more primitive and less conscious brain and strokes it and gives it a sense of calmness and wellbeing, which other architectural styles fail to do. Wellbeing has in recent years become an increasing watchword for employers and their employees.

Biophilia as a framework.

The good news is that biophilia is an incredibly useful framework to assist in improving wellbeing in the built office environment. The first thing to remember about biophilia is that it is not just about plants, although they can play a part. The use of analogues can be just as important, which can be materials imitating something else or elements of nature used in interesting ways. The biophilic design leverages a number of basic elements referred to as the 14 patterns these range from visual connections, lighting, thermal, water, material, forms to the nature of spaces. The patterns can be used in combination within the limit of the physical building to create spaces that completely complement the principles of biophilic design.

Boostig productivity and creativity.

When considering biophilia and its contribution towards wellbeing there have been numerous studies in recent years that show a wide range of benefits, much of the early work was focused on visual preferences, where individuals showed a bias towards natural settings or analogues of nature. These findings were backed up by later research which indicated viewing images of landscapes triggered a stronger dopamine response in the visual cortex than scenes of a manmade landscape. Physical responses have also been measured in heart rate, blood pressure and levels of cortisol the stress hormone, all of which showed improved levels with natural settings. There have also been studies showing improved cognitive performance and enhanced creativity.

Other analysis has gone on to show the benefits these ‘calming’ effects have in the built office environment. These have been shown to include increases of productivity at 6% higher, reported levels of creativity increased by 15% versus those working in environments devoid of nature. 

Research is continuing in looking at the effects on absenteeism and the phenomenon of presenteeism, where the individual spends high levels of time in the office but with lowered performance.

Boostig productivity and creativity.

In recent years, a number of architectural interior practises have stepped forward with a strong will to leverage this design philosophy and they have been able to deliver some amazing spaces to an increasing number of occupiers who recognise office needs to do better than it has been doing for the last 40 years, where for many businesses is has been seen as a cost rather than part of the machinery that makes the business function.

Ultimately, the research into biophilia indicates that designing elements of nature into the workplace, whether real or artificial, provides positive effects on employee outcomes and wellbeing. As such, when considering office design and its impact on employees, employers should make serious consideration of the number of natural elements and the contact provided in the workspace in order to both maintain positive levels of wellbeing among employees and keep employee performance at optimal levels. Those employers who are putting wellbeing at the heart of their office design and using biophilia as a framework are creating a win-win scenario for themselves and their employees. They are usually the ones who have taken the time to gain the greatest insights into their workforce by understanding their needs and preferences in the working environment.

Holistica helps organisations to make their office spaces truly intelligent, considering people’s needs, required physical and digital workspaces and desired behaviours. 

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