Human Spaces

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BRE Biophilic Office Project

By Oliver Heath

The BRE Biophilic Office - External

Biophilic Design as a key aspect of health and wellbeing is moving up the built environment agenda fast – and for good reason. With high rates of urbanisation, a rise in stress related illness and an increasing level of technological proliferation – it seems that we are moving ever further from the natural elements that make us feel good, even reducing stress an aiding recuperation.

This is having a detrimental impact on our experiences of the many of the buildings that are most important to us, particularly as we recognise that 90% of our time is now spent indoors. More than 130 million days are lost to sickness absence every year in Great Britain and working-age ill health costs the national economy £100 billion a year1. A 1% reduction in absenteeism would convert to a saving in lost days alone of £1 billion to the economy. In addition, a 15% increase in operational productivity enabled by the internal fit-out of your office adds further benefit.

Numerous compelling studies over the last 35 years demonstrate that individual patterns of Biophilic Design can improve productivity, creativity and happiness whilst reducing costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism. What’s missing however is a comprehensive and credible study that demonstrates how we can best implement Biophilic Design strategies and which provide tangible human well being benefits.

The ground breaking BRE Biophilic Office Project aims to fill that gap – refurbishing 650 m 2 of a 1980’s office on the BRE’s Watford Campus to varying scales of Biophilic design principles. My own company, Oliver Heath Design will be working alongside expertise at the BRE, Interface floor and a number of other core partner built environment specialists. The aim is to provide both qualitative and quantitative data on how we can better understand and benefit from an improved connection to nature in the workplace.

The plan is to spend 12 months creating a baseline study of the current building occupants to understand how they work in the existing space. Following this the whole office will be subdivided and refurbished into 4 areas – 3 with varying levels of Biophilic Design input from low, medium to high level, plus a 4th blank canvas test study room. The combined spaces will allow the BRE to test Biophilic design interventions and the core partners to evaluate their products efficacy in a variety of settings.

The following 12 months after the refurbishment process will see the undertaking a post occupancy assessment to collect quantitative and qualitative data by a variety of methods including surveys, sensors and wearable technology– allowing the space to be tested throughout the 4 seasons.

Here at Oliver Heath Design we’re excited to be part of this innovative long-term study alongside the BRE, Interface floor and other core partners – which aims to create a clear set of design strategies and demonstrable benefits for the implementation of Biophilic Design; promoting health and well being in the built environment.


The current list of founding core partners are:

  • Interface – global manufacturer of modular flooring
  • Biotecture – designer & supplier of living wall systems
  • Akzo Nobel – global paints and coatings company
  • Plessey – innovative lighting and ECG sensing technologies
  • Royal Ahrend – professional work environments, furniture products and services
  • Coelux – innovative skylights to reproduce natural light
  • Ecophon – acoustic products and systems for working environments
  • GVA – real estate & project management solutions


  1. About BRE: BRE are a world leading building science centre and the authority on all aspects of the built environment. They generate new knowledge through research that is used to create products, tools and standards that drive positive change across the built environment. They enable our government and private sector clients to meet the environmental, social and economic challenges they face by delivering higher performing, better quality, safer, more secure and more sustainable products homes, buildings and communities. They are owned by the BRE Trust, a registered charity, which funds research and education that advances knowledge of the built environment.  They are committed to building a better world together. 


  1. Biophilic Design: Biophilia (meaning a love of nature) focuses on a human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. American biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularised this hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984) defining this as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. Biophilic design uses these ideas as principles to create a human centred approach that when applied improves many of the spaces that we live and work in today.


  1. Dissemination Partners: A number of organisations have also committed to becoming dissemination partners for ‘The Biophilic Office’. This includes: Construction Products Association (CPA), Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), Constructing Excellence (CE), European Federation of Interior Landscape Groups (eFIG), Innovation Gateway, British Blind and Shutter Association (BBSA) and a range of media organisations. These bodies will disseminate findings to members and wider networks in the construction and property sector.

BRE’s current Watford campus


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