BUILDING FOR WELLBEING
Jon Grant, interiors director at London-based architect, Chapman Taylor, tells
Building Products why biophilia is so important for our wellbeing in the built environment
10 BuildingProducts.co.uk • Building for Wellbeing
What are the commercial benefits of
As well as increased productivity and
employee retention, biophilic elements
within a building’s design also aid creativity
by helping staff to relax and focus. Noise can
often be a problem in open-plan offices, but
strategically placed plants help to quieten
down a space because their leaves, stems and
branches absorb, deflect and refract sound.
The reduction of energy requirements,
particularly in terms of lighting, ventilation
and temperature regulation, are also
excellent financial incentives for adopting a
biophilic design approach.
There is some evidence that biophilic
design can also reduce sickness rates, which
again boosts productivity and reduces losses
from absences. A 2011 study by the University
of Life Sciences, Norway, showed that just
being able to see office plants from your desk
can reduce sick leave.
How can biophilia be incorporated into
an architectural or interior design?
There are several ways in which we can
incorporate biophilic design principles into
our designs – for example, plants, green
What is biophilic design?
Biophilic design involves the use of natural
materials, natural light and plants to create a
more pleasing and effective environment for
the end-users of that built environment.
It works on the principle that humans
have evolved to work in, and with, the
natural environment for millions of years,
and that we are not well-adapted to the
urban industrial environment in existence
for only the past 200 years or so. The
physical and mental wellbeing of people who
spend substantial time within the latter is
thought to be positively affected by sensory
contact with natural features, through
reduced stress and increased productivity.
What is driving the movement
towards biophilic design in the built
One major influence driving the movement
towards biophilic design is the need to
encourage staff to stay; if employees
are content, retention rates tend to be
higher. People expect more from the built
environments they use now, particularly
those who work in them (given how large a
proportion of their lives are spent at work).
Productivity is also improved when
employees are happy, and this provides
another incentive for building owners and
operators to ensure that the environments
in which people work are conducive to that.
A 10-year Exeter University study concluded
that employees were 15% more productive
when ‘lean’ workplaces are filled with just a
Providing green spaces, water features,
abundant plants and natural materials creates
a host of benefits, including helping to
reduce a development’s carbon footprint and
regulating the temperature of buildings.
How can biophilic design help improve
our physical and mental wellbeing?
Biophilic design features play a therapeutic
role – they can be calming, uplifting and
stress/anxiety-reducing. As hundreds of
millions of people now live in cities or large
towns, biophilic design can play a role in
helping to improve the physical and mental
wellbeing of a large proportion of the
population – whether workers, shoppers,
residents or visitors.
The 2015 Human Spaces report, which
studied 7,600 office-workers in 16 countries,
found that 58% of workers have no live
plants in their workspaces. Those whose
environments incorporated natural elements
reported a 15% higher wellbeing score and a
6% higher productivity score than employees
whose offices didn’t include such elements.
Other studies have shown that, in an average
living space, five medium-sized plants can
increase air quality by around 75% and
mental health by 60%.
Water features can provide a calming effect
to counter rising levels of stress, while natural
light and ventilation can improve physical
wellbeing and the ‘feel’ of a building. If the
opportunity exists, views over the surrounding
environment should be maximised through
extensive glazing, which can also provide
abundant natural light and ventilation.
The McArthurGlen outlet in
Ashford, Kent, features Europe’s
largest living green wall