Watch our new Biophilic Office Research Project video with Project Leader, Ed Suttie, of BRE. The video discusses biophilia in the built environment, how important it is to the legacy that we’re building for the future, and what we can expect from the project.
The First Project of Its Kind
Much has been written about biophilia and the benefits of biophilic design. Indeed, we at Ambius have been promoting the benefits of biophilic design in commercial buildings for almost a decade, and we have even been training our own teams, designers, and architects in the subject.
For over 25 years, we have been involved with research into the benefits of having plants in workplaces. Our own in-house research, together with some excellent academic projects supported by Ambius, have consistently shown that putting plants into workplaces has many benefits. We know that plants reduce the symptoms of sick building syndrome, ameliorate noise, reduce dust, reduce stress, increase productivity, increase well-being, and improve the sense of comfort and engagement. All pretty impressive.
Other design features in buildings also appear to have many benefits in terms of comfort and productivity. Lighting design, acoustics, and even floor and wall coverings can have an impact on how people relate to their workplaces.
Even though we are confident that the right types of design can make a difference, there has been little understanding of why or how these different design elements interact with each other to create high performance, happy, healthy workspaces.
This why the BRE, together with a core group of industry partners, has embarked on the world’s first study into the effects of biophilic design.
The Elements of an Experiment
Unlike the statement buildings so often featured in the architectural and design press, most office workers have to carry out their jobs in buildings that may be several years, if not decades, old. For this reason, an existing 1980s office building was selected as a location for the experiment. It is typical of many buildings of its age and features a mixture of open-plan, shared and solo offices. The building is on BRE’s own campus near Watford, just outside London. The project team has been given permission to refurbish one floor of the building according to the latest practices of biophilic design.
During 2018, the people working in the offices will be monitored and surveyed to get a baseline measure of their health, well-being, and engagement, together with absenteeism data. Additionally, the indoor environment will be monitored for environmental factors. The factors include light, temperature, noise, humidity and the presence of pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide. Participants will use wearable technology to monitor heart rates, steps, and sleep patterns. They will also give regular saliva samples so that stress hormones, such as cortisol, can be measured. Participation in the project is entirely voluntary. There are no rewards or sanctions for doing so.
At the end of 2018, the offices will be refurbished along biophilic lines and monitored similarly for another year.
Establishing a Baseline
In order to measure the value of these interventions, the project must take place over a long period of time. People react quickly to new things, but then get used to them. Therefore the real effects of a change can’t be seen without valuable sets of baseline data and post-intervention observations. Seasonal effects, as well as changes in work patterns, have to be taken into account. This is why the experiments will take 2 years to complete.
In order to establish baseline metrics for a variety of key variables, researchers divided the facility into three zones. Each zone has a different level of biophilic design – from a low-level of intervention all the way through to a fully integrated space that is truly a recreation of nature indoors. Each of the study’s core partner companies will have their products and services included in the biophilically-enhanced spaces. The aim is to see not just how individual products work, but how they can work together to produce synergies that will really improve the quality and performance of the workspace, and improve health and well-being for the users of the space.
Intermediate results and observations will be reported along the way. There is also a series of small-scale short experiments running in parallel. Consequently, we should see some interesting data produced throughout 2018 and 2019. At the end of the project, the results will be published in peer-reviewed academic journals. They will also be reported in various trade and professional journals.
Without prejudging the outcomes of the experiment, we should expect to see some recommendations and tools for interior designers and building operators that will benefit both organizations and the users of their buildings, leading to healthier, happier and more productive workspaces.
Coming soon in the BRE Biophilic Office Project Series…
Stay tuned for the second installment of the BRE Biophilic Office Project series. Part two will include another enlightening Empowering Workplaces video along with a look inside the groundbreaking research and the people behind this extraordinary study.