Biophilic Design: The Creation Of Healthy, Happy Spaces

By Shane Totten, Director, Commercial Sustainability Services, Southface 

July 27, 2015

Human beings are all hard wired to seek comfort, security and connectivity.  Our built environments should provide these elements. Most people underestimate the effect that our environments, natural or constructed, can have on health and wellbeing. Our recent experience refreshing the Southface campus challenged staff to make our interior spaces healthier using the principles of biophilic design.

In recent history the healthcare industry began recognizing the value of certain design elements on patient health outcomes, which helped launch the evidence-based design field and practice. Within this field, biophilic design, defined as that which draws on human beings’ innate connection to all living things, emerged, providing strong positive effects on human health and wellness. Bonnie Casamassima, Project Manager on the Southface Commercial Sustainability Services team, says some of the most important aspects of the built environment that affect our health and wellbeing include:

  • Daylight and views to natural settings connect occupants with the natural world and their own circadian rhythms;
  • Sense of place gives occupants connection to and pride for their settings;
  • Sense of security allows occupants to feel comfort and a sense of belonging in their territory;
  • Sense of choice of different settings empowers people to find spaces that fit their moods, personalities or work;
  • Dynamic design provides diversity in settings that facilitate investment and interest in the space; and
  • Products with no/low Volatile Organic Compounds and chemical contents facilitate healthy indoor environments.

These principles are especially important in the workplace, as many businesses spend 80 percent of their overhead on employees. Improving worker productivity, satisfaction and retention is essential to business success.

Recently, Southface applied the principles of biophilic design and environmental psychology to the refresh of our own demonstration workspaces. The refresh aimed to create a sense of unity throughout the campus, which consists of three buildings: the Resource Center, opened in 1996; the Eco Office, opened in 2009; and the Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training (SWEET) Center, opened in 2011.

In design and in sustainability, process is important. Southface used an employee survey, observations and interviews to better understand the work tendencies and needs of staff. Surveys uncovered a desire for both collaborative, communal spaces and for private focus areas. These needs influenced new meeting spaces, including a brainstorming space equipped with a standing height table to encourage active engagement, and white board space to collaborate on ideas. Staff hoped to be energized coming in to work, as well. Influenced by research on color theory and human response to various colors, Casamassima and other staff designers selected a yellow hue to infuse our spaces with energy without exhausting occupants.

In addition to choosing finishes that would facilitate appropriate moods and work styles, carpet and paint finishes were selected for their positive impact on indoor air quality. Many manufacturing industries are turning toward increased transparency and information access in their production process and the products themselves, leading to a better understanding of product health impacts. Southface was lucky to partner with Mohawk Industries, a leading advocate for transparency, on the refresh. The movement toward non-harmful products and end-user health is on the cutting edge of sustainability today. A list of all product donors may be found here.

Focusing on biophilic design can enhance the positive effects of constructed spaces on occupants. Today, sustainable solutions place increased value on the health and wellbeing of people, in addition to economic viability and environmental conservation. From finding community endorsed solutions to healthy product usage to biophilic design, Southface strives to identify and incorporate next generation sustainability solutions in every aspect of our work. We bring our holistic approach to the services we offer because we are committed to market transformation for a more sustainable future.

This article originally appeared in the SaportaReport on July 27th 2015. It has been edited for clarity and content. 

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