Biophilia in office design: 4 ways to bring nature into the office


‘Biophilia’ is the term used to describe a love of life and living things, though it more specifically refers to the connection humans feel with nature, and their basic, biological need to remain in close contact with it.

First used by the psychologist, Erich Fromm in his 1964 work, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, the term has evolved from simply meaning “the passionate love of life and all that is alive”, and is now more commonly associated with interior design. This is because incorporating biophilic design in the home and office can have a positive effect on a human’s productivity, mood, and health.

Research has shown that introducing plants to the office can lower feelings of tension and anxiety by around 37%, while another study concluded that the performance of students improved when plants were brought into the classroom. Not only that, but plants in hospitals have been shown to speed up patients’ recovery times.

In fact, biophilia in office design has become an increasing focus for interior designers, and this is due to a shift towards urban living. This has seen modern buildings become more sterile in design, and no longer incorporate as many elements of nature as before; think plain white walls, and natural daylight being replaced by artificial lighting.

Chris Alldred, Design Director at K2 Space, says: “Simply put, plant life and bringing nature into the workplace has numerous benefits, but this needs to be embraced alongside other factors such as providing staff with choice, natural light, and colour to have a measured impact. The big advantage of plant life in the workplace is that it increases oxygen levels, which helps concentration and decreases mental fatigue; studies have also shown that staff working in spaces with greenery are more productive.

“For more information on this, our Office Design Matters infographic may also prove useful.”

Biophilia in office design - 4 ways to bring nature into the office

We also spoke to Helen Bartlett, Design Director at office design specialists, Paramount Interiors. They’ve incorporated biophilic elements into some of their office design projects, including the moss wall at Life Science Hub Wales.

She said: “At Paramount, we’ve certainly seen a rise in awareness of the biophilia trend in office design. Businesses might not use that phrase when we speak to them but they’re certainly more conscious of the need to bring a bit of the outside into the workplace. While it’s impressive to have a striking feature like a living wall in the workplace (the designers of Airbnb’s HQ in San Francisco created one that spans three floors!), reports and studies have shown that there’s some tangible business benefits to adding natural features to an office.

For most organisations, the stand-out stats are the 6% increase in productivity, and 15% higher sense of well-being amongst staff. With more companies focusing on the health and well-being of their staff, the improved air quality and general positive feelings that come with adding some plant life into the office is definitely being seen as a benefit to the business. It helps that it looks great too.”

Marianne Paulsen, a Senior Designer at Morgan Lovell, adds: “I sincerely hope that more and more businesses will embrace Biophilia not because of the trend, but because the elements it makes us incorporate has several scientifically proven benefits. Where Biophilia speaks of human being’s natural draw towards all things living and theorises that all humans are born with a natural need to be in touch with nature, Feng Shui encourages us to live in harmony with nature and protect a balanced lifestyle.”

Biophilic design at the Airbnb headquarters, San Francisco

Airbnb HQ in San Francisco

With that in mind, it’s relatively easy to incorporate biophilia in office design; all you need are the right materials and colour schemes. Here are 4 ways you can bring nature into the office…

1. Introduce real and artificial plants 

The first and most simple way to bring nature into your workplace is through the introduction of office plants. This not only adds a more ‘natural’ and welcoming feel to the office, but it reduces unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches, coughing, and a general feeling of being unwell, as plants reduce dust, mold, and CO2 levels.

However, you don’t necessarily need the real deal to provide the biophilic effect! Although they won’t be able to improve air quality, artificial plants can still be beneficial to your employees’ health; this is because just seeing natural landscapes (such as a view from an office window or a picture on the wall) can improve mood and concentration.

2. Make the most of natural daylight

Biophilia in office design - 4 ways to bring nature into the officeBright artificial lighting may have become a staple in many modern offices, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your workplace. It can actually have a very negative effect on your well-being, with harsh fluorescent lighting causing eye strains and headaches. Studies have also found that employees who work in artificial light will also feel more tired at the end of the working day. (source)

To make the most of your office’s natural light, make sure windows aren’t fully covered by blinds, and that workers’ desks are faced towards windows, rather than away from them; it’s been recommended that workstations are placed within 20 to 25 feet away from walls with windows.

Skylights can also be installed to bring more daylight into the office by turning the ceiling into a lighting source.

3. Use natural colour schemes and shapes

Living Walls for biophilic design from PHS Greenleaf

One of the key components of biophilic design is utilising natural colours and shapes when decorating the office. In terms of colour schemes, this largely involves earthy tones, such as greens, browns, golds, and tans, as well as blues and white to mimic the sea, sky, and clouds.

Incorporating green accents in offices, in particular, have been found to boost employees’ motivation, enthusiasm and productivity, though colours typically associated with fruit and flowers should also be used; this is due to the fact that humans are attuned to seek these out in nature.

When it comes to the patterns and the shapes of the furniture used in your office, you should also opt for organic (irregular) shapes over geometric ones, as the latter are man-made. (source).

4. Incorporate wood, stone and granite

Finally, you can bring nature into the office by utilising natural materials, such as wood, stone, granite, cork, and marble in the design. Each of these materials can be incorporated as finishes on the likes of pillars, shelving, cupboards and desks, though wooden furniture is a very durable and readily available option to consider.

If you want to really get creative with your biophilic design, you can also use artificial plants to create living walls, and vines draped across shelves, cupboards, and cabinets. These are great alternatives to simple landscape prints, and allow you to bring nature into the workplace without taking up too much floor space!

Even if you work from home, you can incorporate biophilic design. Oscar Berkhout, Marketing and Communications Officer at Koru Architects, says: “If you are working from home, it’s best to completely separate your living space and the place in which you choose to work. By creating an isolated working environment, you’re able to distance yourself.

In this space, you can enhance productivity by introducing biophilic design. By creating your own work space, you are already utilising the nature of space, but the most common known advantage of biophilia is nature in the space. In your own home, you’re probably not able to install a water feature or have a stunning view magically appear, but something as small as a few potted plants on and around your desk will work wonders. Biophilia is what you make it; personalise your environment to suit you.”