Office Trend: ‘Biophilic’ Design

October 19, 2020

More companies are redesigning their workspaces amid the pandemic with an eye toward better air filtration systems and greater connection to the outdoors. That’s why biophilic design—a way to bring the health benefits of the outdoors inside through design—is trending.

“We’re blurring the line between work and home,” Asheshh Saheba, a managing partner at architecture firm Steinberg Hart in San Francisco, told CNBC. “Your office doesn’t have to be enclosed at your desk.”

As some workers head back to the office, they may find plexiglass borders sectioning off areas to help control the spread of germs. Eventually, “the plexiglass will go away, but the attention to air quality, water quality, lighting, and acoustics will stay,” Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNBC.

Workspaces are being redesigned to simulate nature, adding more windows and skylights to filter in more natural light. Outdoor terraces can be added and turned into workspaces. The addition of indoor green walls lined with plants can help clean the air. Also, indoor water features, such as ponds and waterfalls, may be added. Circadian lights can change colors, such as lighter white light to mimic daylight.

The ties to nature can actually make workers more productive, studies show. CNBC cites research from the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives showing that offices with artificial lighting, a lack of windows, and poor ventilation create more stress for workers and can impair decision-making abilities. On the other hand, working in a room with natural light helps to increase productivity and mental health, research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows.

“We discovered people have higher cognitive performance” when embracing biophilic design, Rich Cook, founder of New York-based architecture firm CookFox, told CNBC. “We started trying to make buildings and spaces better for the environment. What we stumbled on is how to make buildings quantifiably better for people.”