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Biophilic Design in Working Environments

While the incorporation of natural plants in exterior spaces is common, bringing them into interior spaces is rather seen as innovative and special. This article provides an overview of why we feel attracted to natural indoor environments and reviews how human beings perceive a change towards biophilic design within the working environment.

What is biophilic design?

Biophilia is a term used to express the deep-rooted love of nature. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural environment which we have acquired through the history of mankind while living in agrarian settings. The innate need helps to explain for example, why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us, as well as why nature encourages our creativity and natural parks have a regenerative healing effect.

The biophilic design builds upon this connection. It is a concept used in architecture and the building industry to reconnect individuals with the natural environment by incorporating living organisms, natural lighting, and organic shapes and features into the built environment.

In simple terms, biophilic design brings nature to places where we spend most of our time - indoors. By reducing the mismatch between human evolutionary needs and contemporary indoor settings, evidence suggests that a natural indoor environment design provides a range of health and well-being benefits.

We note that biophilic design does not necessarily imply green architecture and vice versa. Green architecture typically refers to the reduction of the environmental impact of cities and buildings, while biophilic design addresses the connection between nature and human beings. However, possibilities to combine the two perspectives such as plant-assisted HVAC concepts are an emerging field of sustainable building design.

What is driving the movement towards biophilic design?

The World Health Organization predicts that stress-related diseases such as mental disorders and cardiovascular diseases will account for the largest proportion of illnesses in 2020.

Bearing in mind, that today’s society spends more than 80% of their time in buildings, the interior design holds enormous potential to foster opportunities for recovering mental and physical health.

Another driver towards biophilic design from a business perspective is the chance to attract and retain staff in the “war of talent”. If employees are happy with their working environment, they will be more likely to stay, and the retention rates sink.

Productivity can also be improved when employees are happy and content. This states a further incentive for building owners and operators to ensure a working environment where people can thrive. A long-term study by the University of Exeter concluded that employees are 15% more productive when lean workplaces are supplemented with just a few indoor plants.

What are the perceived benefits of biophilic design?

Mental health: Indoor plants help decrease the level of carbon dioxide indoors while maintaining the level of Oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis. Our brain functions and cognitive processes will profit from that, which makes people more efficient in everyday tasks. Empirical research with 320 participants shows that 54% feel actively more productive and 68% less stressed due to indoor plants.

Physical health: Plants increase air quality by increasing the relative humidity and filtering pollutants from the air. In the combination of the mental effect of biophilic design and cleaner air, scientific research proved a decrease in sick days of up to 60%. Besides that, research provided evidence, that a relative humidity between 40-60% has a significant effect on virus transmission, by pushing the viruses down to the floor more quickly. This can especially be of interest during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sustainability: The natural improvement of the indoor air quality lowers the run times of conventional ventilation systems. Due to that, one can not only save on energy costs but also improve the environmental impact by lowering energy consumption. Empirical data demonstrate an average decrease in energy consumption of around 30% in the presence of indoor greenery.

Ambiance: A natural design improves the interior ambiance significantly, which can be traced back to the innate connection to nature. Results of our survey with clients (more than 300 participants) suggest that this was the case for 84% of the participants.

Trends Analysis

To get an idea about how the trend in the implementation of indoor plants evolves, we have had a look at worldwide search request trends on Google for the past five years. Whereas “Biophilic” and “Biophilic Design” show a steady but modest increase over time, it appears that in particular the demand for “indoor plants” achieved a new peak in the public’s eyes. By digging a bit deeper, it can be seen that the origin of the search request might mainly come from private households. The following chart depicts the search entries for “home design” (red), “office design” (yellow), and “indoor plants” (blue).

A strong positive correlation (Pearson correlation of 0.97) between “home design” and “indoor plants” can be observed in the first quarter of 2020 (right after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), accounted for by the surge of home office leading to increasing demand for home interior design ideas incorporating indoor plants.

Besides that, social media seems to be another driver for indoor plants as part of the biophilic design. According to the Swiss newspaper NZZ, plantfluencing appears to be the new way to attract people and engage with them. Depending on how this trend evolves, this might show a considerable impact on the workplace environment if they are designed customer-centric.


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