The Research Question

There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that by incorporating Biophilic Design into our built environments, we can increase our health and wellbeing.

Currently, more than 130 million working days are lost to sickness absence every year in Britain and working-age ill health costs the economy a hundred billion pounds a year. 

Biophilic design in the workplace has been shown to increase productivity by fifteen percent, increase creativity, improve staff retention and crucially reduce absenteeism and presenteeism – potentially saving businesses thousands of pounds. 

But the question remains how best to implement Biophilic Design to create the highest return on investment? 

That is what this project set out to investigate...


sketch visual of design

The BRE Biophilic Office Study

The BRE carried out 1 year of monitoring of its staff in their Watford Campus office, specifically the first floor of a 1980s concrete frame building (B18), to provide pre-refurbishment data. 

The refurbishment plan is to create three different ‘levels’ of Biophilic Design (levels being the amount and cost of Biophilic Design features within each space), and measure its impact on health, wellbeing and behaviours. There were 30 people on average present over the course of the study period.

The BRE created a report to show their findings, comparing the results with those from another, similar building on the same campus that was also monitored (B17 - the control building). This was to help determine whether observations in the test building resulted from the impact of the building or from external factors.

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The Pre-Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

Data was gathered using a combination of questionnaires, cognitive tests, and physiological measures. The following measurements were also taken on both buildings:

  • IEQ, including indoor air quality (IAQ), temperature, relative humidity and ventilation
  • daylight and artificial lighting
  • acoustic environments
  • occupant wellbeing and performance.


Some of the pre-refurbishment results, as found in their report, were as follows:

  • Concentrations of CO2 were found to rise above the CIBSE recommended limit of 1000ppm for substantial periods in the afternoon on work days, especially in the smaller meeting rooms
  • 45.7% in the test group rated the temperature as ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘very uncomfortable’
  • Both groups reported a fairly high level of dissatisfaction with the air quality
  • Electric lighting alone currently provides insufficient circadian stimulation in both buildings. The electric lighting in the test building at desk surfaces was found to be below standard recommendations.
  • There was general satisfaction with the level of noise disturbance in both offices
  • Factors relating to the quality and image of the offices were rated poorly by test group respondents, in particular ‘Décor’, and ‘Look of the office’
  • 25% of the test group reported that they do not go outside at all during the working day, and most reported only going out once a day


In summary the pre-occupancy evaluation found that whilst the space wasn't technically too bad from a quantitative perspective (i.e. warmth, air quality acoustics etc), the qualitative feedback found that it was not a desirable, productive or enjoyable space for the occupants. 

sketch visual of design

The Outcomes

OHD created a Biophilic Design strategy for the study, to involve three tiers of intervention to test out:

  • The first tier focused on the low-cost elements that staff can input themselves such as desk plants.
  • The second involved more detailed design considerations, such as cladding walls in timber and fitting Biomimetic Interface carpet tiles.
  • Finally, the third tier of intervention incorporated more technologically advanced features, such as green walls, biomimetic flooring, acoustic soundscapes and circadian lighting systems designed to mimic natural lighting to improve staff sleep patterns and cognitive functioning.

The data capture and timescale of this study is what makes this project unique, with the end goal being to be able to provide guidance and evidence to those hoping to adopt Biophilic Design considerations within their refurbishments.

Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 and the restructuring of the BRE’s workplace portfolio has meant that this project has been put on hold and designs have not yet been completed. In the meantime, to continue engaging with concepts of Biophilic Design, the BRE shifted the realisation for this idea into the smaller ‘Biophilic Foundation space’. You can read all about this development here.

A Short Film about Biophilic Design

Oliver talks about the designing a biophilic office with the BRE