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Natural forms and biophilic design lend themselves particularly well to modern offices

Posted on July 21, 2017 by admin

Earlier this month, BRE launched The Biophilic Office project, a ‘groundbreaking’ office refurbishment in test conditions that will seek to provide quantified evidence on the benefits of biophilic design on health, wellbeing and productivity of office occupants. The project centres on a 650 sq. m. 1980s office building on the BRE campus in Watford, which will be refurbished according to biophilic design principles. BRE are partnering with architect Oliver Heath, who will lead on the design element of the refurbished building. This is timely, because biophilic design is one of the two most talked about workplace issues right now, alongside its related theme of wellbeing.

It’s also a topic that is attuned to one of our most primal needs. Recently office furniture maker IPSOS surveyed hundreds of UK office workers on behalf of Steelcase to find out what they wanted from their office. One of the report’s key findings was the importance of organic forms. “One element which is conducive to wellbeing in the working environment is the beneficial effects of contact with nature,” it concluded “In modern office design, biophilia, the human desire to connect with nature is one of the trends identified by consumer and design trends analysts Scarlet Opus for future workspaces. Rather than take the workers to green spaces, green spaces will be incorporated into the offices of the future.”

We have primal associations with the Natural world that can help us feel happier and more relaxed, energised and engaged. It was the architect Frank Lloyd Wright who once said: “harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.”

Nature was the original adherent to the principle that form should follow function. The things that belong to the natural world look the way they do on the basis of what they are for. Animals have evolved forms and behaviours to perfectly fill whichever environmental niche they occupy. Organic forms and patterns down to a cellular level exist to order the world. Even something as mundane as broccoli is formed from self-replicating patterns.

Mankind is usually playing catch up with these things but we are increasingly able to understand the principles of how and why nature does the things it does. Those same principles can now be applied to the forms we create when we design an office. Technology allows us not only to mimic nature in the form of imagery but also adopt some of its practicality and functionality.

One great example of how this works in practice is with the specification of carpet in an office interior. When it comes to specifying carpet, the simplest approach of using one-colour or simply patterned tiles will provide the best solutions in terms of fit in a particular space, waste, cleaning and repair. There’s nothing wrong with this approach but it ignores the possibility that there are alternatives that are more interesting and may be more practical and cost effective. The world’s major carpet companies such as Milliken and Interface (who are co-sponsors of the BRE project) of are fully aware of this combination of beauty and functionality, not only promoting the main principles of biophilic design, but applying them in practice too.

For example, with the help of modern technology, it is possible to design ranges that apply natural principles of pattern, tessellation and modularity to create the integration of apparent randomness and order that is the hallmark of natural forms. The advantages of this kind of design can be substantial. When patterned carpet tiles lack a repeating pattern, they do not have to be installed in a particularly way so that they ‘fit’ alongside each other.

The ordered chaos of these designs also means that if a tile needs to be replaced because it is damaged in some way, the replacement tile automatically fits, as a leaf that falls to the woodland floor is absorbed into the patterned mass. For the same reason, any off-cuts from an installation can be used to fill gaps in the corners, edges, nooks and crannies that exist in any installation which helps to minimise waste.

It almost goes without saying that these organic forms are far more interesting than single colours and repeat patterned carpets. This is especially the case over large expanses of floor where the true impact of the patterns can have their full expression. We are inevitably impressed by this form as part of our primal yearning for the outdoors, but the design presents us with a very functional solution too.