Workspace with nature

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The answer lies in biophilia, or the desire to bring nature indoors - think natural materials like stone or copper, circadian lighting, water features, indoor sky, and more.

While many of us may have had limited exposure to a traditional office given the last 18 months, some design principles of a beautiful and productive workplace still apply whether you're working from home or office.

A report by IA and Space Matrix, called Designing Positivity: Leveraging Neuroscience to Optimize Well-being In the Workplace, calls attention to the importance of biophilia, or bringing nature indoors, while designing a workspace.

Here are some design principles shared in the report on incorporating biophilia in your workspace:

01 Spaces with a variety of prospect and refuge attributes. “Consider elements that offer prospect (a view out) and refuge (a feeling that you’re safe and secure where you are—for instance, high-backed seating booths with a view of the entry,” says Dr. Augustin (Heerwagen and Gregory, 2008).

02 Features that convey gentle movement, akin to a soft breeze. For example, window treatments that rustle gently in an HVAC current.

03 Natural materials such as stone, copper, leather, and wood with exposed grain that develop a patina over time (Kellert, 2012).

04 Sensory variability, including light, sound, colour, shapes, and forms that mimic or directly use nature (such as fish tanks or other water features). "Only when our brains are comfortable —calm, but not lulled—can we think broadly and be in the right mood to do knowledge work and to collaborate with others,” says Dr. Sally Augustin (Heerwagen and Gregory, 2008).

05 Moderate degrees of visual complexity to sustain interest without overwhelming (Joye, Yannick, et al. “When Complex is Easy on the Mind: Internal Repetition of Visual Information in Complex Objects Is a Source of Perceptual Fluency.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, vol. 42, no. 1, 2016, pp. 103-114).

06 Circadian lighting that helps occupants understand the passage of time, and time of day (Figueiro, Mariana, et al. “Circadian-Effective Light and Its Impact on Alertness in Office Workers.” Lighting Research and Technology, vol. 51, no. 2, 2019, pp. 171-183).

07 Gently curved forms, like arms of the sofa, that are physically and emotionally comforting (Bar, Moshe, and Maital Neta. “Visual Elements of Subjective Preference Modulate Amygdala Activation.” Neuropsychologia, vol. 45, no. 10, 2007, pp. 2191-2200).

08 Flowers and plants to enhance indoor and outdoor spaces. Even nature views, green roofs, and water elements can offer psychological respite and improve mental performance and creative thinking via cognitive restoration. “Restoring depleted mental energy is vital in the context of the workplace: without it, our mood, mental performance, and interactions with others are significantly impaired,” says Dr. Augustin (Kellert, 2012).

09 Artwork of natural imagery can provide the same restorative effect, particularly if the composition suggests a space people could step into, with no foreground impediments. “While art doesn’t replace nature, it can approximate it,” notes Dr. Augustin. In the open-plan modern workplace, lack of walls on which to hang art is a challenge, she adds. “In this case, consider plants, which are like freestanding sculptures.” (Veitch, 2012)

10 Water features, especially those that create sounds of gently moving water, are stress-reducing and mentally refreshing (Benfield, Jacob, et al. “Natural Sound Facilitates Mood Recovery.” Ecopsychology, vol. 6, no. 3, 2014, pp. 183-188).

11 A colour palette that can mimic the complexity and beauty of nature, thus harnessing its healing power. “This will promote wellbeing and remind us that we are connected,” says Guido-Clark.

12 A big indoor sky, as replicated in building atria with high ceilings and daylight access.

13 Windows, balconies, and skylights that provide real-time views of the sky.

14 Natural patterns in interior design and furnishings.

15 Places for social activity and story-telling that replicate the essence of the campfire.

Photo / 123RF

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