Human Spaces

Spaces designed with the human in mind

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Human Spaces Report

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Unique research into biophilic design

What makes work feel good? For modern organisations and their people, it’s about much more than the end goal of productivity and profit. How we gain meaning, a sense of well-being and of purpose in the workplace is just as vital, not only to feel good but to perform effectively too. Increasingly, employers and employees themselves are engaging in this debate about a more comprehensive view of work and the role it plays in our lives, as are governments and societies with the growth of projects measuring national well-being across the world. A connection with the natural world is a big part of that discussion however we frame it – escaping the concrete jungle, achieving a better level of balance or simply being in a space that is enjoyable.

The increasing academic and organisational interest in biophilia and biophilic design is driven by the positive outcomes that it can help create for individuals and businesses, many of which are discussed at length in this report. The timing behind this burgeoning interest lies in the wider sociohistorical context of a major movement of populations globally into urban areas – we are as disconnected from nature as we have ever been. Figures show a remarkable shift during the 60 years between 1950 and 2010 with some countries seeing over 40% of their population residing in urban areas compared with non-urban areas. In France that figure is 22.6%, in the Netherlands, 26.8%, in the United Arab Emirates, 22.4%, in Switzerland a massive 32.7% and in Turkey, an even greater 44.8%.

Increases in percentage of population living in urban areas in EMEA countries

Country Percentage in urban areas (2010) Percentage in urban areas (1950) Percentage increase
Central African Republic 38.9 14.4 24.5
China 44.9 13 31.9
Croatia 57.8 22.3 35.5
Czech Republic 73.5 40.9 32.6
Denmark 86.2 68 18.2
Egypt 43.7 31.9 11.8
France 77.8 55.2 22.6
Germany 75.6 64.7 10.9
Greece 59.7 37.3 22.4
Hungary 68.3 53 15.3
India 30.1 17 13.1
Ireland 62 40.1 21.9
Italy 68.4 54.1 14.3
Malaysia 71.8 20.4 51.4
Netherlands 82.9 56.1 26.8
Norway 77.9 50.5 27.4
Pakistan 37 17.5 19.5
Portugal 60.7 31.2 29.5
Russia 72.6 44.2 28.4
Sweden 84.5 65.7 18.8
Switzerland 77 44.3 32.7
Turkey 69.6 24.8 44.8
Ukraine 68.9 35.5 33.4
United Arab Emirates 76.9 54.5 22.4
United Kingdom 90.1 79 11.1

At a time when organisations have more knowledge than ever before about the effect of work environments on their people – physically, psychologically and socially – it’s perhaps surprising that the biophilia agenda is still in its nascent form. Despite the number of clinical studies in existence on the impact of biophilia on a range of human behaviours, there are relatively few studies conducted outside the lab linking the field with organisational psychology. With this review and the new research contained within it, the aim is to kick-start the discussion within organisations about workspace design and its role in organisational well-being, performance and culture, as well as the possibilities that biophilic design can create.

A background to biophilia

The ‘Biophilia Hypothesis’ suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. It literally means a love of nature, and suggests an ingrained affinity between humans and the natural world. Therefore, biophilic design is a response to this human need and works to re-establish this contact with nature in the built environment3. Ultimately, biophilic design is the theory, science and practice of bringing buildings to life and aims to continue the individual’s connection with nature in the environments that we live and work in everyday.

In today’s contemporary built environment, people are increasingly isolated from the beneficial experience of natural systems and processes4. 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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