The Biophilic Office

Eren McEwen Biophilic design, Community, Furniture, General, Materials, Office, Technology/ Energy Saving




There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that by incorporating Biophilic Design into our built environments, we can increase our health and wellbeing. Biophilic design acknowledges that we are instinctively connected to nature and that through exploring this connection within the spaces that we live, relax and work in, we can positively influence our physical and psychological health.

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.[1] 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[2] – potentially saving businesses thousands of pounds.

Oliver Heath Design is currently leading work, alongside the BRE and with the support and input of companies (including Interface, Biotecture, Akzo Nobel, Plessey, Royal Ahrend, Coelux, Ecophon and GVA) to further explore and quantify the benefits of Biophilic Office Design. Together they have launched a 2 year research and demonstration project to refurbish the entire floor of a 1980s office building and measure the impact that introducing biophilic elements within the scheme will have on staff. The data capture and timescale of this study makes the project unique. It will allow the project to provide guidance and evidence to those hoping to adopt biophilic design considerations within their refurbishments to promote health and wellbeing within the office environment.





The project will take place in three phases; pre-refurbishment assessment, redesign and refurbishment, post-completion assessment and analysis. During the first and last stages, the office will be assessed in terms of daylight, indoor air quality, acoustic, thermal and humidity comfort. The staff will take part in confidential health evaluations, making use of wearable technology and online questionnaires. These assessments will quantify the positive influence of Biophilic Design on productivity levels, health and wellbeing and show how such improvements bring rewards for landlords, occupiers, developers and those within the office and wider environment generally. The World Green Building Council suggests that 90 percent of typical business costs are attributed to staff and therefore exploring ways of improving productivity and wellbeing makes good financial sense.

The Biophilic Design process will involve three tiers of intervention. The first tier will focus on the low-cost elements that staff can input themselves such as desk plants. The second will involve more invasive work, perhaps cladding walls in timber or fitting Biomimetic Interface carpet tiles. There is evidence that where a direct connection to nature is not available, mimicking nature and using natural analogues can positively impact perceptual and physiological stress responses[3]. Finally, the third tier of intervention could incorporate water features, green walls and circadian lighting systems designed to mimic natural lighting and improve staff sleep patterns and cognitive functioning. It’s hoped that such interventions will positively impact on work-place related stress and aid mental and physical recuperation. The incorporation of visual references to natural forms, textures and patterns are usually preferred by staff[4] and tactile stimulation can be used to reduce stress[5]. The project will allow staff to feel valued, in turn increasing their desire to work in the office and increasing staff retention levels.

Besides the impact that the pre and post refurbishment research will have on the world of architecture and design, the project also aims to incorporate a test facility which will allow the BRE to carry out ongoing investigations and laboratory tests in an attempt to quantify a ‘Health and Wellbeing Value’ at product level.



[2] The Economics of Biophilia, Terrapin Brighton Green 2012

[3] Salingaros, 2012; Joye, 2007; Taylor, 2006; Kaplan,S.,1988

[4] Vessel, 2012; Joye, 2007

[5] Spence, 2010