Design Advice / 04.10.2017
In England’s green & pleasant land
In the William Blake poem, set to music by Hubert Parry and heartily bellowed everywhere from the Women’s Institute meeting to the Lords test match, he vows not to rest until we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. Now it has to be said that we Brits are a tad protective of our green spaces. We furiously resist the notion of building (Jerusalem or otherwise) on the green belt and woe betide any council that wants to chop down an avenue of trees or concrete over a common. Whilst the Great British public believe that more than half of the land in Britain has already been built on, the actual figure is only 2.27%, or at least it was in 2012. In fact, overall, just 6.8% of Britain is classified as urban, which although it does include dark satanic mills, also covers less diabolical spaces such as gardens, parks and sports pitches.
We may have embedded our outdoor love into the national psyche, but the human relationship with nature has been explored throughout history and across cultures. The German psychologist Erich Fromm coined the term ‘biophilia’ to describe the human love for life and living systems and the American Edward O Wilson’s biophilia hypotheses posits that we have an urge to affiliate with other forms of life. Others have espoused that since many of us spend more time in an urban environment, stuck in the car or the office or living room, we increasingly yearn for a greater connection with the natural world.
In architecture, biophilic design has long been thought of as a partner of green design; that of concern for the environmental impact of a building, as well as its relationship with the space around it. If you are a fan of the TV property programme Grand Designs, you will have seen many an environmentally-conscious builder who is not only planning to make sure that the building has solar panels, under-floor heating and efficient insulation; but also to make sure that the building sits sensitively within the landscape, often using materials designed to replicate the natural features of the area.
In terms of office design, it is rare that you will be able to control the design of the whole building unless you are able to build your own structure. The Grand Designs brigade however, have done wonders for the designers and manufacturers of bi-fold doors, as almost every intrepid builder wants to remove that divide between the interior and exterior world. And it is this element that is most readily available for the office. A remarkable amount of outside can be brought inside.
Natural light in offices will help maintain employees’ circadian rhythms and having plants in the office can improve productivity by up to 15%, so your office should be designed to give as much natural light to as many staff as possible. Plants and greenery should be at the heart of any design as they have been shown to reduce levels of bacteria, dust & mould as well as CO2 levels. A well-planted office will also have a positive effect on staff motivation and wellbeing with lower levels of tension and anxiety reported. Natural finishes such as wood or stone also help bring a sense of the outside to the office as can stunning new design features such as living walls which can also help control humidity and noise levels to improve employee concentration and productivity.
From a corporate point of view, a biophilic office not only enhances and promotes a positive working environment for your staff, but promotes your company as a responsible, green business. A green & pleasant company.