The introduction of biophilia in workplaces has, in some cases, been purely superficial with the mere addition of a few green plants. Melissa Mizell, principal at Gensler Portland, believes that it has much more to offer workspaces than what is currently being utilized. She explains how biophilic design can be used more extensively and why offices and employers are better positioned now more than ever to embrace truly biophilic spaces.

Photo Ai Qing

Why do you think (some) workplaces are now prepared to go beyond the addition of a few plants to make truly biophilic spaces?

MELISSA MIZELL: With companies searching for ways to entice employees back to the office and attract new talent, a deeper focus on holistic wellbeing in the workplace, office culture, experiences, diversity, and emotions is needed. To respond to tenant demands for spaces that contribute to health and wellness, developers are incorporating biophilia and other WELL Building Standard elements into the core and shell of buildings. Elevated and landscaped decks and outdoor zones, operable windows for fresh air, and open stairways are the types of enhancements that can increase a building’s value and help developers position their projects as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments. These investments in health and wellbeing will deliver value for tenants and their employees.

Photo Grensler and dwg

What are the most important aspects to consider when creating a biophilic office ecosystem with a symbiotic relationship between nature and people?

One of the best ways to better connect our built environment with our innate love of nature is to create visual connections to the outdoors, like changing seasons and the time of day, as well as physical connections. Great office design offers choice and variety of spaces – outdoor spaces can contribute and serve as third spaces for work, whether for collaborating, individual focus time, or simply a place to reset. We can learn a lot from analyzing the aspects of natural environments that feel great to humans. Two of my favorite principles of biophilia are prospect and refuge, which create a sense of psychological safety by having your back protected while also enabling you to visually scan the environment and see what’s going on around you. In the built environment this may manifest as comfortable booths with high backs which face an active social space.

Photo Robert Deitchler

What role does technology play?

Technology can be used to improve physical comfort. It can enable windows to automatically open and close and give users more individualized control. Smart glazing can control glare and heat gain while maximizing daylight and views. Rather than seeking a constant set temperature, we can again, learn from our love of nature, and embrace variability in airflow and temperature, like the joy of a sudden, slight breeze.

Photo Grensler and dwg

What’s next? How can the concept be pushed as far as possible?

Biophilia can help us go beyond the purely rational, efficient two-dimensional planning of space to designing for a rich series of experiences. For example, designing an office entry experience that translates the joy of taking a walk along a curving path in a forest; you don’t know exactly what delights you’ll discover around the next bend, but you are compelled to continue exploring, still feeling safe and in control. Digital experience design is a wonderful way to utilize changing light, sound, and imagery to continually allow for a space to evoke change and constantly feel fresh each time workers return to the office.