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Reconnect to Nature with Biophilic Design

Before renovating their office in the West Loop neighborhood, Google Chicago Headquarters held a visionary meeting focusing on designing a healthy environment that would inspire and empower employees (Living-Future). The design team wanted to provide daylit spaces, views of the city, and sensory variability within plants, vibrant art and graphics, and varying textures and shapes in the finishes and fixtures. Why was it important for Google employees to have these elements incorporated into their historic 20th century building?

The answer is Biophilic design.

“Biophilia” describes the human tendency to connect with nature (NCBI). On average, humans spend 90% of their time inside a building.  When humans are separated from a natural environment, our physical and mental well-being is negatively impacted causing side-effects such as disrupted circadian rhythms, stress, and unhappiness. A biophilic design is a sustainable design solution that seeks to reconnect our living spaces to other forms of life by bringing those natural elements we need, indoors (Sage Glass).

Human Spaces, an online resource dedicated to biophilic research and exploration, found that the presence of nature was consistently associated with higher reported levels of happiness, well-being, and productivity. Views of nature and open water, natural light, green-space, wood and stone materials were linked among various work-spaces as positive contributors to a biophilic design. Even images of greenery among walls and furniture have shown encouraging results. A research study conducted in the United Kingdom confirmed that exposure to plants resulted in a 15% increase in productivity among employees, over those working in offices without greenery or nature within their environment. For businesses, it is an economic investment: people working around elements of nature reportedly use fewer sick days and are more efficient than employees who do not work in a biophilic workplace.

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In 2016, Via completed a commercial office break room at Fogg Filler Headquarters.  Shades of green, wood details, faux grass, and large windows provided a space filled with natural lighting and views of the outdoors.

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The two photos above are of a nearly completed commercial project.  Natural wood, skylights, roof deck, and windows displaying the views of the neighboring river were features designed to create the biophilic work-space.

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Above: examples of biophilia incorporated into commercial offices through textured wall hangings, natural light, wood paneling, plant life, and the color green.

According to Architecture Now, the following elements are positively linked to well-being at work:

  • Window views
  • Green, blue, and brown colors
  • Nature within the work-space; i.e. natural lighting, live plants, greenery, and water features
  • Light and spacious work-spaces

The revolution of biophilic design is not just a trend, but a movement toward sustainability. With the increase of urbanization and stress related illnesses, biophilic design can provide the restoration humans need from the work-associated stress and the long stretches of time spent indoors.

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