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Post-Pandemic Office Trend: ‘Biophilic’ Design

To make employees comfortable, companies are adopting a fresh-air theme to office remodels. It includes better air filtration and a greater connection to the outdoors.

NEW YORK – More companies are redesigning workspaces during the pandemic with an eye toward better air filtration systems and a greater connection to the outdoors. That’s why biophilic design – a décor system that brings the health benefits of the outdoors inside through design – is trending.

“We’re blurring the line between work and home,” says Asheshh Saheba, a managing partner at architecture firm Steinberg Hart in San Francisco. “Your office doesn’t have to be enclosed at your desk.”

As workers head back to the office, they may find plexiglass borders to help control the spread of germs. Eventually, “the plexiglass will go away, but the attention to air quality, water quality, lighting and acoustics will stay,” Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told CNBC.

Workspaces are being redesigned to simulate nature with the addition of more windows and skylights to filter in natural light. Outdoor terraces can be added and turned into workspaces. New indoor green walls lined with plants can help clean the air.

In addition, some companies are adding indoor water features, such as ponds and waterfalls. Circadian lights can change colors, such as lighter white light to mimic daylight.

Ties to nature can actually make workers more productive, studies show. CNBC cites research from the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives showing that offices with artificial lighting, few windows and poor ventilation create stress for workers and can impair decision-making.

On the other hand, a room with natural light can increase productivity and mental health, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“We discovered people have higher cognitive performance” when embracing biophilic design, Rich Cook, founder of New York-based architecture firm CookFox, says. “We started trying to make buildings and spaces better for the environment. What we stumbled on is how to make buildings quantifiably better for people.”

Source: “Bringing the Outside into the Office: Coronavirus Bolsters Push Towards Healthier Building Design,” CNBC (Oct. 17, 2020)

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