Green Me Up
Scott Spector June 22, 2016, 9:01 a.m.
Have you ever walked into an office and felt immediately at peace?
Some spaces have a way of making you feel calmer and more productive—almost like you’re at home rather than work—and this is particularly the case when there are plants or water features built into the design. Green walls, also known as vertical gardens or living walls, are increasingly making their way into offices all around the globe. Turns out, there’s science to back the way these offices make us feel and even a term for it: biophilia.
Simply put, biophilic design taps into the innate human need to be connected with nature and living things. People who dwell and work in urban and suburban environments spend 90 percent of their time indoors and reconnecting with nature is not just some sort of design fad—it’s a way for them to better their mental and physical health. A recent study by environmental consulting and strategic planning firm Terrapin Bright Green entitled “The Economics of Biophilia” offered a compelling financial case for incorporating a bit of green into office design. Ten percent of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with a lack of connection to nature and bringing those elements back into the mix can help recoup losses and re-engage staff. In a surprising statistic, the report found that employees with north and west views of trees and landscapes took an average of 57 hours of sick leave per year, as opposed to 68 hours by those lacking a nature view. For the average company, these numbers equate to thousands of dollars per year.
The benefits of incorporating greenery go beyond absenteeism and aesthetics. There is often an increase in employee productivity and morale, air quality and acoustics. Plants provide an excellent natural sound barrier and insulation against noise. Natural elements, whether they involve views or bringing outdoor elements in, also relieve stress, improve health, are a natural cooling system and create a sense of Zen.
One study from Washington State University monitored participants’ blood pressure and emotions while completing timed computer tasks with and without plants present. It concluded that participants had a 12 percent quicker reaction time, lower blood pressure and felt more attentive when plants were nearby.
For tenants looking to go green feature walls, strategically placed planters, greenery beneath stairs that connect one floor to another—the latter being one that we used in our work with advertising giant Deutsch in its new office space—all serve aesthetic and practical functions. They can be a part of wayfinding in the midst of a large footprint, identify transitions within a space and even help those with vision impairment or other handicaps by creating an identifiable barrier.
Massive live walls are certainly not the only solution to a tenant looking to green their office. Many tech startups or even mature companies realize the benefits of green walls but don’t want the large expenditure and maintenance woes associated with them. For one client of ours, advertising firm Criteo, we created a budget-friendly solution that involved the use of individual potted plants within three stylish steel box frames in its pantry and training area. No irrigation system was needed to implement the design, yet the company still reaps the benefits of greenery.
Low-maintenance succulents can also be used to add green to an office. One chief executive officer we worked with wanted the greenery but not the maintenance. For his space, custom glass-enclosed topiaries with low-water plantings mark each neighborhood and punctuate the space with a pop of color, creating a Zen-like atmosphere. It’s also common to see people decorate their desks with small succulent terrariums due to the easy upkeep.
Another way to go green is via stabilized solutions. Natural techniques have been developed to harvest, treat and preserve the moss, allowing it to be attached to a substrate and placed on walls. The most unique attribute is moss requires no light, no water, no pruning and no maintenance and that is 100 percent biodegradable. Humidity is a factor, but other than that, moss walls are self-sustaining. Its natural neutral color combined with natural pigments provides different variants of color, giving designers unlimited possibilities to create unique and impactful feature walls.
Whether a company opts for a terrarium, potted plants, a live wall with an irrigation system or something as simple as a small arrangement of succulents on each desk, going natural is sure to be a breath of fresh air for all who spend their days in the office.