Sustainability Meets Wellness: How Biophilic Design is Transforming the Chicago Workplace

May 24, 2018

Long days spent working in an office can leave employees feeling lethargic and disengaged, adversely impacting morale and productivity. Can biophilic design help companies make the “science of sunshine” work for them?

“Biophilic design is a scientific approach to architecture and interior design that’s based on a simple idea: if you mimic nature in the built environment, people feel better and are more productive,” says Emily Kream, Director, Construction. 

At Irvine Company, we consider three key components to biophilic design in our workplace communities: light, greenery and materials.

Light

The most important element of biophilic design is natural light, something which comes at a premium during Chicago winters. The darker days can trigger varying levels of depression for many, a phenomena called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Modulating light exposure helps employees regulate mood, sleep better, and stay alert, focused and productive.

The strategic use of natural lighting, together with programmed artificial lighting, can support employees’ natural Circadian rhythms. One option is tunable white light, which uses a system of cool and warm white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to modulate light color and intensity based on the time of day. Additional light sensors can modulate intensity based on the presence of natural light, decreasing LED vibrancy on a sunny day and increasing vibrancy on a cloudy day.

Greenery

“We encourage the use of living walls to separate spaces as opposed to traditional partitions. In addition to serving a practical purpose, we have found that customers experience an improved mood and less stress when surrounded by greenery,” says Kream.

The benefits of greenery go far beyond stress reduction though. Plants like Boston Ferns and Peace Lillies are highly efficient at removing indoor air pollutants including formaldehyde, benzene and certain VOCs that are emitted by harsh cleaning products. Improved air quality can impact an employee’s ability to process information, make strategic decisions, and respond to crises– the exact skills needed to be productive in today’s knowledge economy.  

Building Materials

Biophilic design makes use of organic materials such as stone and wood and integrates the sights and sounds of nature though water features. But it also re-imagines the use of traditional building materials– many of which may already be present in your workplace. For example, monochromatic carpets with organic texture variations subtly mimic visual properties of organic materials such as water or stone, weaving a natural element into workplace communities.

“Manufacturers of building materials were years ahead in adopting biophilic tenets so mindful building designers have been able to leverage this concept to a far greater degree than customers realize,” Kream says.

Biophilic design is uniquely beneficial because it combines properties of both sustainability and wellness, supporting people and the planet as part of a single ecosystem. To learn more, read our white paper on sustainability.

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