Human Spaces

Spaces designed with the human in mind

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Human Spaces Global Report

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Biophilic Design at Work

Biophilia, a concept first popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, describes the innate relationship between humans and nature, and concerns the need we have to be continually connected to nature. Plenty of research confirms this human preference for the natural, rather than built, environment. For example, in a 2004 study, when asked to describe their ideal city, people more often chose non-urban characteristics, greenery in particular, and in other studies it has been shown that a pleasant and natural view can raise the price of a house considerably.

Although it has been proposed that this desire for a connection with nature is the result of an anti-urban bias combined with a romantic view of nature, environmental psychology research tells us that being connected to nature, is in fact, an adaptive human function that allows for, and assists with, psychological restoration. This means that within an urbanized environment, bringing in elements that allow direct nature connection (such as parks and lakes) or indirect connections (i.e., interior design using natural elements, nature-resembling colors and patterns, indoor plants and views of greenery) can help us to mentally recover and provide respite from our day-to-day activities, to maintain positive well-being.

Interest in biophilia has grown substantially over the last decade, largely due to the rapid urbaniziation of the modern world, which has resulted in cities that are characterized by a predominance of manmade structures. Global figures show this incredible shift in populations moving into urban areas over the last 60 years. Some countries, including those we have analyzed in this report, have seen an increase of over 40% in the number of individuals in the population residing in urban areas since 1950. In particular, those countries that have seen the greatest economic development in recent years appear to be the nations with the greatest increase in urbanization such as Brazil (51%), Indonesia (42%), the Philippines (39%) and China (32%).

Globally, it is clear that people are moving away from rural areas to towns and cities. In fact, the United Nations predicts that by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in urban environments. Therefore, it is imperative that we consider how the human-nature connection can still be provided to those residing in towns and cities. The answer to this challenge is biophilic design. Often, we find that our cities and suburbs have been designed in a way that alienates us from nature and degrades the environment. Biophilic design is a method of designing the places in which we live and work in such a way that satisfies our deep and fundamental need to be connected with nature.

The effects of providing this connection to nature go much further than simple employee satisfaction. An increasing research base has identified the positive benefits of biophilic design in supporting multiple organizational outcomes, including well-being, productivity and creativity.

The focus of this report is on the potential benefits to be gained by satisfying humans’ biophilic needs in the workplace, as well as the issues that surround working in environments that do not provide a connection with the natural world. Following an EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Human Spaces report published in 2014, which analyzed original data across eight countries in the region and looked specifically at the impact of biophilic design in that geographical area, a second wave of data collection has provided the base for a global research project. Collecting data from 16 countries around the world, this research quantifies the benefits of biophilic design in the workplace. While adding to the existing evidence base for biophilic design, we aim to provide a blueprint for nature-inspired design for high-performing organizations.

Research Methodology & Sample Profile

Online survey of office workers across a variety of roles and sectors.

  • 7600 employees from 16 countries across the world – United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Demark, United
    Arab Emirates (UAE), United States (US), Canada, Brazil, Australia, Philippines, India, China and Indonesia.
  • Largest proportion of respondents fell in the 25-44 age bracket (58%).
  • Largest proportion of respondents spent 40-49 hours a week at work (40%).
  • 39% felt 80-100% productive at work during the last three months.
  • Well-being refers to the combination of participants’ responses to three scales: happy; inspired; and enthusiastic. These scales are taken
    from Robertson Cooper’s market-leading stress evaluation tool (ASSET).

Global Urbanization

The table below highlights the increases in the amount of people living in urban areas during the last 60 years across the 16 countries investigated in this report. Countries with the greatest increases in urbanization are highlighted in blue.

Country Percentage in urban areas (2010) Percentage in urban areas (1950) Percentage increase
Australia 77 89 12
Brazil 36 87 51
Canada 61 81 20
China 13 45 32
Denmark 68 86 18
France 55 78 23
Germany 65 76 11
India 17 30 13
Indonesia 12 54 42
Netherlands 56 83 27
Philippines 27 66 39
Spain 52 77 24
Sweden 66 85 19
United Arab Emirates 55 77 22
United Kingdom 79 90 11
United States 64 82 18

The consequences of a decline in physical contact with nature are poorly understood, especially in those countries that are urbanizing the fastest. The purpose of the present study was to extend the scope of our research into biophilic design by analyzing its impact on people across the globe.

Background to Biophilia

Biophilic design is a response to the human need to connect with nature and works to re-establish this contact in the built environment. Ultimately, biophilic design is the theory, science and practise of creating buildings inspired by nature, with the aim to continue the individual’s connection with nature in the environments in which we live and work every day.

In today’s contemporary built environment, people are increasingly isolated from the beneficial experience of natural systems and processes. Yet it is often natural settings that people find particularly appealing and aesthetically pleasing. So, by mimicking these natural environments within the workplace, we can create workspaces that are imbued with positive emotional experiences. It is often the case that we don’t take enough time to immerse ourselves in nature or appreciate the living systems that exist everywhere around us, making it vital for us to incorporate nature into our day-to-day environments.

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