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Are Biophilic-Designed Site Office Buildings Linked to Health Benefits and High Performing Occupants?


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This paper discusses the first phase of a longitudinal study underway in Australia to ascertain the broad health benefits of specific types of biophilic design for workers in a building site office. A bespoke site design was formulated to include open plan workspace, natural lighting, ventilation, significant plants, prospect and views, recycled materials and use of non-synthetic materials. Initial data in the first three months was gathered from a series of demographic questions and from interviews and observations of site workers. Preliminary data indicates a strong positive effect from incorporating aspects of biophilic design to boost productivity, ameliorate stress, enhance well-being, foster a collaborative work environment and promote workplace satisfaction, thus contributing towards a high performance workspace. The longitudinal study spanning over two years will track human-plant interactions in a biophilic influenced space, whilst also assessing the concomitant cognitive, social, psychological and physical health benefits for workers.
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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11, 12204-12222; doi:10.3390/ijerph111212204
International Journal of
Environmental Research and
Public Health
ISSN 1660-4601
Are Biophilic-Designed Site Office Buildings Linked to Health
Benefits and High Performing Occupants?
Tonia Gray 1,†,* and Carol Birrell 2,†
1 Centre for Educational Research, School of Education University of Western Sydney,
Penrith 2751, Australia
2 School of Education, University of Western Sydney, Penrith 2751, Australia;
These authors contributed equally to this work.
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail:;
Tel.: +61-427-331-127.
External Editor: Mardie Townsend
Received: 12 August 2014; in revised form: 6 November 2014 / Accepted: 6 November 2014 /
Published: 26 November 2014
Abstract: This paper discusses the first phase of a longitudinal study underway in
Australia to ascertain the broad health benefits of specific types of biophilic design for
workers in a building site office. A bespoke site design was formulated to include open
plan workspace, natural lighting, ventilation, significant plants, prospect and views,
recycled materials and use of non-synthetic materials. Initial data in the first three months
was gathered from a series of demographic questions and from interviews and observations
of site workers. Preliminary data indicates a strong positive effect from incorporating
aspects of biophilic design to boost productivity, ameliorate stress, enhance well-being,
foster a collaborative work environment and promote workplace satisfaction, thus contributing
towards a high performance workspace. The longitudinal study spanning over two years
will track human-plant interactions in a biophilic influenced space, whilst also assessing
the concomitant cognitive, social, psychological and physical health benefits for workers.
Keywords: biophilic design; site office; productivity; collaboration; well-being; stress
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12205
1. Introduction
“Study Nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you”.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
The positive effects of nature, especially plants, upon human health and well-being, has been
extensively researched and documented [1–12]. Data outlining the benefits of human-nature contact
include: stress reduction, healing, attention restoration, and the development of perceptual and
expressive skills, as well as cognitive, imaginative and social capacity [13–20]. However, Elings [3]
posits that little is known about the people-plant interactions or the mechanisms behind what some
people refer to as horticultural therapy or nature based interventions [21,22]. More importantly,
methodological limitations of previous studies reduce their usefulness as evidence-based research.
Most research in this area has been strongly psychological, studying cognitive processes [23],
the emotions [24,25], and well-being [26,27]. A recent extensive review [28] on the physiological
effects of experiencing outdoor nature reported significant positive effects; however, most studies were
short duration; took place outdoors, in forests, gardens or wildlife reserves; and were located in Japan,
Europe or the USA.
According to Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson [29,30], we are biologically drawn to nature.
In essence, we are hard-wired to prefer natural settings, yet in our modern industrialised societies,
we spend on average 90% of our time indoors in built environments, most often in cities [31,32].
These artificial settings seldom offer contact with nature and are not generally designed on natural
principles. In contrast, biophilic design [33] incorporates such features as indoor-outdoor connections,
natural ventilation and materials, extensive natural lighting, views of the outdoor landscapes,
courtyards, natural landscaping, water features and interior designs that mimic shapes and forms found
in nature. Research indicates that biophilic design enhances human well-being by fostering
connections between people and nature in the modern built environment. The theory of biophilia
provides a comprehensive framework for understanding human-nature relationships [34] and is
articulated within nine unique “biophilic expressions” (see Table 1).
Table 1. A typology of values of nature [35].
Value Definition
Aesthetic Physical attraction and appeal of nature
Dominionistic Mastery and control of nature
Humanistic Emotional bonding with nature
Moralistic Ethical and spiritual relation to nature
Naturalistic Exploration and discovery of nature
Negativistic Fear and aversion of nature
Scientific Knowledge and understanding of nature
Symbolic Nature as a source of language and imagination
Utilitarian Nature as a source of material and physical benefit
Note: Adapted from Kellert, by Meltzer and colleagues [35].
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12206
2. Biophilic Design in Modern Architecture
Stephen Kellert [34] as a leading academic, has argued the degradation of natural systems is due to
his dominant approach to architectural design. He believes the built environment has exacerbated
human separation from the natural world. Biophilic design is an attempt to redress this imbalance and
bring nature back into architecture by incorporating six key features: (1) environmental features;
(2) natural shapes and forms; (3) natural patterns and processes; (4) light and space; (5) place-based
relationships; and (6) evolved human-nature relationships [8,31]. Although a relatively new concept
within contemporary architecture, biophilic design incorporates considerations of human health,
ecology and sustainability principles. Proponents such as Almusaed and Asaad [36] advocate that
buildings should be designed to incorporate the following design principles: (1) energy, activity and
thermal comfort; (2) indoor/outdoor nature contact; (3) functional light and airy spaces; and (4) green
building elements and energy saving components.
3. The Impact of Plants within the Built Environment
Nature writer Wendell Berry [37] coined the term “non-place” to refer to those settings lacking
vitality and organic connectedness. Ostensibly, “dead” places constitute an ever-increasing proportion
of our daily lives occupied within these sterile ‘non-places’. Recent research conducted by Burchett
and colleagues [1] examined the effects of plant presence on negative mood states in building
occupants. Their research was the first empirical study to use internationally validated psychological
measures for assessing the potential benefits of indoor plants. The presence of plants correlates
positively with worker productivity [38] as well as large reductions in negative mood states and levels
of stress among building occupants [1,2,39–42]. Potted plants can improve indoor air quality [43] for
building occupants, but of particular interest, Burchett, et al. revealed that just one plant within
the workspace can significantly enhance staff morale and simultaneously promote well-being
and improve performance [1].
Their seminal research focused on the benefits of potted plants in reducing air pollution indoors.
Plants played a central role in ameliorating volatile organic compound (VOCs) emitted from plastic or
synthetic materials (such as furnishings, furniture, and equipment like computers and photocopiers),
and CO2 from occupants’ breathing. Cleaner air has also been found to have a causal relationship with
better cardiovascular health and mental acuity [42,43].
Compelling evidence is mounting to encourage the incorporation of green spaces in work sites;
this proposed two-year collaborative project between University of Western Sydney (UWS) and
Brookfield Multiplex (BM), one of Australia’s largest construction companies, will examine if selected
variables such as: a bespoke open plan site shed space; natural lighting and ventilation; introduction of
plants; and collaborative work spaces have an impact on health and well-being.
The Case Study Site
On each BM building site, the most essential component is the site office, adjoining the building
site and serving as a temporary workplace for site managers who oversee the project.
Although temporary, site managers move from one site office to another; thus the buildings constitute
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12207
a long-term setting for their professional lives. In other words, “temporary” becomes “permanent”
across different work sites.
BM is a partner of 202020 Vision [44] and supports the program because of their shared
understanding that green spaces can have a significant and positive impact on building occupants. As
an organization, BM’s goal is to create smarter, high performance buildings. In the words of Lauren
Haas, Australasian Sustainability Manager at BM:
“Our goal with this project is to improve our site office environments which is an element of our
broader business agenda of creating high performance site offices... because evidence tells us they
make our people happier, healthier and more productive”.
In the first month of the study, the case study commenced with a “voluntary Saturday working bee”
involving workers from a wide cross section of employees from apprentices through to upper
management. This was a novel approach to work assignment, with the goal to empower workers and
break down everyday hierarchy in the company to increase collaboration and solidarity.
The bespoke workplace design of the biophilic site office (see Figure 1) was initiated by
Lauren Haas.
Figure 1. Bespoke open plan site office before plant arrival.
The following characteristics defined the site office (see Appendix Figure A1):
Four specific purpose spaces, including: (1) collaboration hub; (2) design hub; (3) enclosed
collaboration area; and (4) open plan area.
Skylights to allow for natural light.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12208
Recycled and sustainable carpet and furniture.
Blinds and operable windows with views of trees.
Recycled timber decking.
Doors to improve lighting and ventilation.
Extended kitchen with a breakout area for recreation and informal team meetings.
12 plant boxes at eye height between large rows of decks.
2 floor-to-ceiling plant walls.
Herb tower for the verandah.
It can be seen that the design outlined here has incorporated certain biophilic design principles as
articulated by both Kellert [8,31] and Almusaed and Asaad [36]. In particular, the considerably larger
size of the site shed workplace and open space collaborative design aspects were seen to be deliberately
addressing such biophilic design factors as “light and space” and “place-based relationships” emphasised
by Kellert [8,31] as well as “energy, activity and thermal comfort” and “functional light and
airy spaces” of Almusaed and Asaad [36].
4. Methodology
The aim of the two-year longitudinal study is to examine the impact of purposely introduced plants
into a retrofitted site office shed which incorporates elements of biophilic design. Against this
backdrop, our paper provides the initial findings from the first phase of a longitudinal two-year study
(2014–2016). The site office workers are in situ for 24 months renovating a major suburban shopping
mall in western Sydney, both quantitative and qualitative data will be obtained. The long-term research
project incorporates a mixed-methods research design. Quantitative data for the longer-term project
will be obtained from on-line survey results Connection to Nature Scale (CNS) [45], employee
absentee records and self-reported health and well-being data. The emphasis in this paper is on the
qualitative data obtained from interviews, observation, photographs and video footage.
The data collection was initiated with the working bee and will continue at regular six-month intervals
along the 24-month project. The primary research question underpinning this study is, what are the
short-term wellbeing and perceptions of the working environment for workers in a retrofitted biophilic
designed site office shed?
The preliminary data collection points during the first three months of this study are displayed
in Table 2.
Table 2. Data collection up to May 2014.
Phase Description
Phase 1 Preparatory meetings with key stakeholders prior to
biophilic fit-out.
Phase 2
Qualitative data obtained from the working bee during
brief interviews, observations, photographs, and video
analysis of site workers.
Phase 3
Qualitative data from interviews with randomly selected
workers following biophilic refit of the site office.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12209
4.1. Phase 1: Planning Stage
Several planning meetings were held with overall site manager and foreman of the site, 202020 Vision
staff and Nursery and Garden Industry of Australia (NGIA) representative Matt Carroll, who were
providing the plants for the retrofit. Discussions concerned the type of plants themselves as suitable for
this environment (several varieties; little natural light required; must be hardy and not need constant
watering; the density of plants throughout the office). The final plant selection included:
Peace/Madonna Lily (Spathiphyllum species)
Mother in Laws Tongue/ Snake Plant (Sansevieria species)
Zanzibar Gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Grey Star (Ctenanthe setosa)
Decisions concerning what materials the plants would be seated in and exactly where in the site
office they were to be located were important considerations. A biophilic approach features recycling
natural materials wherever possible, so construction used wood pallets (see Figure 2), readily available
on site and literally cost free.
Figure 2. Concept design Vertical Pallet Trolley.
Vertical pallets had to be easy to assemble on the designated working bee day with staff, friends and
family invited to the site to participate in constructing the pallets, choosing and planting the plants and
placing them in the designated spots in the site office. An underlying premise was that a model of
easy-to-construct, cheap and attractive pallets could be adopted in a home context; thus, not only does
the workplace or company model the use of recycled materials and greening of the workplace,
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12210
but also encourages greening of the workers’ homes as a flow-on effect. This pattern of modeling and
transferable techniques develops in a new direction the overall Sustainability Plan for BM,
while incorporating all six elements of biophilic features [31].
4.2. Phase 2: Working Bee Overview
The study commenced with a Saturday working bee organised for site office workers (n = 17),
their partners (n = 6) and children (n = 3). The primary intent of the exercise was to foster
collaborative and group ownership of the project. Qualitative interviews, observation, photographs and
video footage were obtained during the working bee proceedings.
Using elements of social capacity building and cohesive team building, two foremen were tasked
with six apprentices and shown novel ways to up-cycle materials found on their worksite which would
normally go into waste material. Workers and their families were actively engaged in transforming
their site offices using innovative recycled office furniture and planter boxes (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Children actively participating with their parents in the working bee.
The use of the “foreman-apprenticeship” relationship reinforced team building and increased social
engagement. One of the managers remarked on the day, “obviously there is a huge team building
exercise going on”. Another site-manager commented: “they kind of jumped in and the community
collaborative spirit… the tapping into a connectedness with the plants and some of the people and you
could see a different side of it coming in”. In sum, the day was heralded as an exemplary team building
exercise although this was a secondary objective (see Figure 4).
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12211
Figure 4. A foreman and apprentice working together during the working bee.
Once the site workers were up-skilled by the foreman, they were responsible for the construction of
their personalized recycled planter box, choice of greenery and general maintenance for their plants.
Workers were interviewed whilst building vertical pallet trolleys and vegetable gardens from recycled
materials. The artifacts produced are shown in the following collages (see Figures 5 and 6).
Figure 5. Collage of team building unfolding during working bee.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12212
Figure 5. Cont.
Figure 6. The plants enter the workplace.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12213
4.3. Phase 3: In-Depth Site Office Interviews
Three weeks after the working bee day, the researchers conducted onsite individual interviews
(15 min per subject) with randomly selected workers across all levels of management (n = 12) to
ascertain the initial impact of the biophilic intervention upon their workspace. Researchers actively
probed workers to encourage them to reflect deeply on their responses. All workers were receptive to
this approach and forthcoming with measured and thoughtful dialogue.
Interview questions:
1. Demographics: (i) Gender and Age, (ii) Role or Position and (iii) Time spent in Site Office
2. Rate this site office against previous site offices you have worked in (score out of 10).
3. Does this office layout help or hinder the work environment at BM? Why/why not?
4. Do you think it is beneficial in terms of health and well-being? Why/why not?
5. Does this office do anything for you in terms of fatigue or stress? Why/why not?
6. What about creativity and mental acuity—any changes by being in this office? Why/why not?
7. In terms of collaboration and co-operation, have there been any noticeable differences?
Why/why not?
8. Did you come to the working bee? If not, what was your initial impression when you walked
into the office space the following Monday?
9. Name three qualities that best describe “the vibe” of this site.
The narratives were transcribed and emergent themes coded. Collated results are outlined in the
following section.
5. Results and Discussion
Due to the nature of data collected during the interviews, observations and video footage, reviewing
all of the explicate outcomes obtained in this phase is clearly beyond the scope of the paper.
In addition, some emergent themes need to be confirmed during the ongoing longitudinal follow-up
before they can be reported. However, our preliminary analysis of the results has revealed intriguing
trends and insights. With regard to interview Question 1, a breakdown in the demographics of the
12 workers and their workplace information is provided in Table 3.
Table 3. A snapshot of the demographics of workers.
Gender Age Role/Position Time Spent in Office
Female 25 years Site Engineer 70%
Male 29 years Services Manager 80%
Male 32 years Project Manager 60%
Male 27 years Site Engineer 40%–50%
Male 32 years Senior Site Supervisor 20%–30%
Male 41 years Site Manager 50%
Male 27 years Foreman 20%
Male 22 years Cadet 90%
Male 35 years Contracts Manager 99%
Female 25 years Site Secretary 100%
Male 31 years Design Manager 95%
Male 31 years Contract Administrator 90%
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12214
What stands out from this table is the relatively young age of people working in the site office,
that the workers are predominantly male, and the variable amount of time that workers utilize this site
office space. The site office space occupies the vast amount of working time for many of the staff
on this building site.
Individuals were asked during interview Question 2 to rate (score out of 10: 1 = very poor,
10 = excellent) previous site offices they had worked in against the biophilic office. Table 4 illustrates
their responses.
Table 4. Rate this office against previous offices you have worked in (score out of 10,
1 = very poor, 10 = excellent).
Respondent Rating of Previous
Office Site(s)
Rating of
Biophilic Office
1 5 9
2 6–7 8–9
3 6 8–9
4 3 8
5 6 8–9
7 7–8 9
8 1–2 8
9 3–4 9
10 5 8
This data makes obvious that the transformed biophilic site office was considered by its workers to
be superior to previous site(s), in some cases by a very wide margin. It must be acknowledged that a
limitation of our study lies here in the lack of a pre-and post- intervention design. In asking workers
to make a retrospective evaluation of previous site sheds as against the present modified site shed,
results may indicate bias.
Data collected from interviews identified several emerging themes: the unique nature of this site
office (compared to other site offices); sustainable workplaces and the transfer of learning from
workplace to home (sustainable practices and ownership); high performance workplaces; impact of
external surroundings of working site office; and the role and impact of “green space” (specific plants)
in the workplace. For the purposes of this paper, two themes will be addressed: high performance
workplaces and the role of plants in the workplace. The justification for the choice to focus on these
elements is as follows: it was felt that since the initial interviews had been conducted so soon after the
Working Bee (three weeks), the impact of that day may still have remained as a strong influencing
factor on the workers’ responses. In addition, the researchers deduced that a longer time interval was
required in order to tease out the nature of sustainable workplaces and if there was a transfer of
learning from workplace to home. The role of the transformed green working space and the re-design
in terms of open space collaborative spaces, seemed to suggest an immediacy of impact that should be
reflected in the interviews.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12215
5.1. High Performance Workplaces
The site office, although by its very nature transitory and temporary, is in fact the type of
workplace setting that these workers and managers inhabit serially over their working lives in the
construction industry. Although the site may be temporary, the workers are permanently in similar
structures. Most workers noted an overwhelming positive difference between previous site offices and
the present one:
“For me this is the best office that I’ve ever worked in, so an 8 or a 9 (rating out of 10)”.
“…and my last site, I didn’t want to go to the office. So out of 10, it would probably be 3”.
Our workers described previous site offices as “aggressive”, “stark surroundings”, “sterile
environment” and “stale kind of environment”. As one participant elaborated:
“And if you look at most site offices, they’re fairly cold, harsh. Walled sort of environments,
and that’s not the sort of environment that’s conducive to really collaborating well and just creating
an atmosphere in which you can present your ideas strongly. But it doesn’t have to be an absolute sort
of contest till the death to get those ideas across”.
In contrast, many viewed the biophilic site office as increasing social capability and improving
workplace relations. Not only had the extra spaciousness of the working environment been noticed,
but also the more “functional light and airy spaces” (Almusaed and Asaad [36]) had changed the
dynamics. Several workers referred to the “softer feel” of the place, and one also identified the
“softening interactions” that now took place in the site office. These included more communication
between younger and older workers, between the more and less experienced members of the team:
“Sometimes I get stuck on certain things on site, and I come back to the office and you know, I’m
looking for an answer first from someone. And I find that this office kind of gives me an opportunity to
speak to different people. I’ll just walk past someone, and I’ll think to myself, maybe I can ask this
person. You know, because you get an opportunity to see people in their open area. You’re not, you
know,… sometimes if you’re in an office, you’re kind of restricted. Like people might not come up to
you as much. But if you’re in an open area, you know, you kind of feel as though everyone’s on the
same level in that sense, where you can walk past and just have a conversation and ask questions”.
According to workers, spontaneous collaborations occurred that previously would not have taken
place in another site. For example, informal collaborations expedited problem solving across teams:
“…Between the site team and the design team. So sometimes, because they are based on site,
and 85% of their time is spent on site, they don’t get that opportunity to maybe look at drawings and
at that same time, collaborate with the design team who has spent, you know, a couple of weeks
looking into certain issues such as the way things are built. And you know, to have that opportunity
here in the office where they can grab someone, ask a question, the problem can be solved in
five min rather than let the problem be ongoing for a couple of days before they bring it to the
attention of the design team”.
The newly designed open plan arrangement suited this type of increased social interaction, as well
as opportunities afforded by the range of smaller meeting places:
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12216
“There was more room—that was definitely a bonus. I came from a previous site where our site
shed was quite limited, and there wasn’t really a lot of room to kind of set up and have an area to
work with. It was, yeah, very different. We also didn’t have a lot of meeting rooms, so a lot of the
conversations where we didn’t want to make a lot of noise, we would walk outside and talk on the
phone. Other areas would be, I think for me a kitchen, especially. It was just more a lunch area.
We didn’t have that prior; it was just a small kitchen, and you had your lunch at your desk. So it gives
a kind of opportunity for a bit of balance, without working from your desk, because normally you just
go to your desk and just check your emails while you’re eating your lunch… So yeah, and because
we’re in between site and office, sometimes when we do come back to the office, we kind of just need,
I don’t know… Sometimes it’s nice to walk into the kitchen and sit down and just recollect your
thoughts and think about what you need to do and make some calls.Another thing was, I guess,
just interaction with other people. There weren’t kind of shelves in front of you, so you could see
the person next to you and talk to them. And yeah, I guess it was just a very different layout for
a site office”.
Some workers found those increased interactions distracting, but these responses were in the minority:
“Personally, I haven’t got the best attention span anyway, so with everyone talking, especially,
I’m in the design hub so there’s a constant flow of people coming in and asking questions. Sometimes,
I find it very hard to concentrate, as in focus on reading the emails. A lot of what I do is reading
reports and trying to knuckle down and get design done…I just literally was losing my temper a couple
of seconds ago because I’m trying to read an email which is many pages of A4 long. I’ve printed it off.
I can’t focus because there’s seven different conversations, and everyone asks you, because you’re
sitting there, and it’s so open plan…”.
Still, the collaborative nature of the space was recognized by the same person:
“I think collaboration in this job has been good, and a lot of that’s been because of the way the
office is set up. A lot of it’s been from the initiatives that certain people in the office have driven:
with every Friday at 2 o’clock, we review something in the meeting room... Yeah, I think it has been
good for collaboration”.
From natural lighting, furniture made with natural materials, white painted walls, and recycled carpet,
to open windows and hearing bird sounds, all of the workers delineated different positive attributes
of the unusual biophilic workspace. The workplace was enhanced from various perspectives.
Early accounts from the qualitative interviews also suggest that this space increases social capacity
and collaboration, and may lead to gains in productivity that we are exploring in the longer
research project.
5.2. The Impact of Green Spaces in Workplaces
The dominant effect of the redesign of the site office seemed to be a change in the social dynamics
of the space. However, the researchers were keen to tease out the specific impact of the plants,
especially how workers perceived green elements in the design:
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12217
“I guess as soon as you walk into our office from the front gate, you notice something different
because it’s got that vibe of you know, you’re kind of secluded away. And you know, you don’t really
know what to expect, and then you walk in, and I think it looks a lot more, I don’t know, modern,
relaxing. I’m not sure what words to use, but it’s different in a very positive way”.
This user does not speak about the “green” of the site office directly here, but the plants were
mentioned by this subject subsequently:
“Yeah, when I walk to my desk, and you see plants, and you’re just, you know, it’s different.
You don’t feel as though you’re indoors the whole day, if that makes sense”.
Another respondent who commented on his high stress levels in his last job, referred to the site
office plants in this context:
But I do enjoy having them (the plants) now; I think it’s really nice. I’m not super-stressed at the
moment. I’m in one of my calmer cycles, so I don’t know if that’s down to the plants, or whether that’s
down to just where the job’s at. I like them.
This same worker identified his own need for natural surroundings in the workplace:
“I think natural light is really important; it’s one of my favourite aspects whenever we’re working
on a job and designing a job. I think it’s important. Like I say, I really like the plants as well. I didn’t
like the fertiliser smell for the first couple of days when they came in, but no, I like it, I do. I actually
like the deck. I like there’s just a bit of a garden bit out the front; when you’re out there on the front,
it’s nice. It’s nicer than what I’m used to. Last time I would sit outside the office on a roundabout
pretty much making phone calls”.
Even the office worker who was least receptive of the biophilic intervention in the group
acknowledged that the plants in some way contributed to the transformed working environment:
Look, I’m a bit of a sceptic to be honest with you, when it all sort of comes to this sort of stuff. But I
was actually surprised when we did all the plants, because it actually, it is good. And it does make, it
does create a better vibe within the office.
When questioned about the meaning of the word “vibe” this worker explained:
“I’d say “energetic” would be one word: relaxed, calm, enjoyable. You know, this is probably the
best, yeah, probably the best office I’ve worked in”.
The extent to which the plants contribute to the ‘vibe’ is unclear in this respondents interview.
From other interviews, the plants were clearly having an impact:
“What did I think? I thought, wow there’s plenty of plants in here—very different for a site office.
I thought it looked good. I had no issues, no issues at all with it. I think it is good. You know,
our subbies (subcontractors) come in and have a meeting with us, and they go, geez, where did you get all
the plants? I don’t think it’s going to have a negative impact on anyone who works here, that’s for sure”.
And another states:
“Look, it may reduce stress and fatigue and stuff like that, but I think not knowing, it probably does.
But it definitely takes away that sort of sterile environment that you sort of get in a lot of offices and
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12218
that. So I may not directly know that it’s making me feel a lot better, but you walk in, and it doesn’t feel
like your standard office”.
At this preliminary stage in the research, we note that green workplaces matter to workers who
inhabit them in explicit ways, perhaps more so to those who inhabit temporary spaces such as site
offices. Despite issues with responsibility for watering and maintaining the plants, we propose that the
greenery itself contributes to a changed working environment:
“I suppose when you look up and see a bit of greenery around, it kind of reminds you you’re in a
kind of living environment… We’re working long hours though; I’m sure it does help though, just not
being such a stale kind of environment… Anything that’s natural, anything natural that’s I suppose
growing and changing every day”.
Lastly, the researchers caution that generalisations to other populations at this point in time could be
problematic due to the interviews being conducted within a few weeks of the “working bee”
intervention. Clearly, issues such as “recency effects” and “honeymoon periods” could have
favourably skewed the results. The future six-month interval data collection over the two years of the
project will enable the researchers to gauge the enduring impacts and better understand the processes
and mechanisms underpinning these claims. Notwithstanding these acknowledged limitations,
the researchers posit that their preliminary results act as a benchmark for future comparisons.
6. Conclusions
Historically, site workers have been housed in temporary,match-box-sized offices for the
duration of construction projects, extending up to multiple years. These offices become the “norm” for
their office space as workers transition from one construction site location to another. In this Brookfield
Multiplex Australian study, aspects of open plan design and green interior spaces were purposefully
infused into the newly devised bespoke office site.
Initial responses from occupants were clearly supportive of the newly introduced biophilic design
elements to their workspace. Some benefits perceived by the workers using them included: enhanced
collaboration amongst staff, including across teams, improved morale, and mitigation against stress.
Even though this longitudinal study is ongoing for two years, early trends in responses from the first
few weeks of occupancy suggested resounding approval by office workers. In short, the research is
pointing towards a potential outcome that biophilic-designed site offices are linked to perceived social
benefits and increased employee functioning including cooperation and mentoring, and to positive
psychological effects, such as improved work satisfaction and higher morale. These are all
characteristics of a high performance workplace and reinforce the findings of earlier research.
What remains to be explored as the project continues are the effects of these design elements on the
specific performance of workers and managers in their work spaces and the overall impact of plants in
the workplace environment, including on non-subjective factors, such as employee retention and
productivity. In addition, it remains to be seen to what extent the results are due to the biophilic
elements or the impact of the Working Bee. Data collection currently ongoing until early 2016 will
address a number of measures of workplace effectiveness and other quantifiable benefits, such as
decreased absenteeism and improved mental acuity.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11 12219
This study was made possible due to a small grant from the School of Education, University of
Western Sydney, 202020 Vision, NGIA and the generosity of Lauren Haas and her team at the
Brookfield Multiplex.
Author Contributions
Tonia Gray and Carol Birrell work together at University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Collectively they collected the data, analysed the findings and shared equally in the academic content
in this paper. Both authors have a long-term commitment to infusing nature-based well-being and
educational techniques into their work place.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Figure A1. Bespoke site office at Brookfield Multiplex Wetherill Park.
© 2014 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license
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Doğa her daim, mimari tasarım için önemli bir ilham kaynağı olmuştur. Doğayı gözlemleyen mimarlar kimi zaman doğada var olanı taklit ederek kimi zaman ondan esinlenerek tasarımlarına yön vermişlerdir. Ancak son on yıllarda artan küresel iklim krizi ve doğal çevreye yönelik sorunlar ve yanı sıra insanların doğayla olan bağlarının zayıflaması sebebi mimarlar, insan ve doğa ilişkisini farklı bir boyutta ele almaya başlamışlardır. Bu anlamda mimarlar, doğa ve insan iletişimini esas alan; çevresel kaynakları korurken insan sağlığını ve refahını da göz önünde bulunduran ve ayrAıca tasarımın kültürel yönlerini de dikkate alan doğa temelli tasarım yaklaşımları ortaya koymuşlardır. Sürdürülebilirliğin önem kazandığı, doğa, kültür ve insan ilişkilerinin yeniden ve farklı biçimlerde sıklıkla gündeme geldiği günümüzde, insan sağlığı, esenliği ve refahında önemli bir yer tutan bu yaklaşımlar daha sağlıklı, konforlu ve çevre dostu iç mekanların tasarımında son derece önemlidir. Bu noktadan hareketle çalışmada, akademik çevrelerce kabul görmüş olan yeşil tasarım, ekolojik tasarım ve biyofilik tasarım olmak üzere üç doğa temelli tasarım yaklaşımına odaklanılmış ve bu yaklaşımların benzerlik ve farklılıklarından yola çıkılarak, sürdürülebilir ve kapsayıcı bir iç mekân tasarım çerçevesi sunulmuştur. Bu doğrultuda nitel araştırma yöntemlerinden biri olan ve tümevarımsal bir sürece dayalı olarak işleyen gömülü teori metodu uygulanmış ve bu bağlamda ilk olarak bu tasarım yaklaşımları ve ilkeleri derin literatür taraması yoluyla açıklanmıştır. Ardından bu tasarım yaklaşımlarının benzerlik ve farkları temel alınarak iç mekân tasarımına yönelik kapsayıcı bir tasarım çerçevesi önerisinde bulunulmuştur. Çalışma, doğa temelli, sürdürülebilir özelliklere sahip iç mekân tasarım yaklaşımlarının hem iç mimarlar hem de kullanıcılar için sunduğu potansiyelleri vurgulaması bakımından önemlidir. Çalışmanın sürdürülebilir tasarım yaklaşımları ile ilgilenen iç mimarlara yeni bir bakış açısı sunacağı ve yanı sıra ilgili literatüre katkı sağlayacağı düşünülmektedir.
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Natural environments offer a high potential for human well-being, restoration and stress recovery in terms of allostatic load. A growing body of literature is investigating psychological and physiological health benefits of contact with Nature. So far, a synthesis of physiological health outcomes of direct outdoor nature experiences and its potential for improving Public Health is missing. We were interested in summarizing the outcomes of studies that investigated physiological outcomes of experiencing Nature measuring at least one physiological parameter during the last two decades. Studies on effects of indoor or simulated Nature exposure via videos or photos, animal contact, and wood as building material were excluded from further analysis. As an online literature research delivered heterogeneous data inappropriate for quantitative synthesis approaches, we descriptively summarized and narratively synthesized studies. The procedure started with 1,187 titles. Research articles in English language published in international peer-reviewed journals that investigated the effects of natural outdoor environments on humans by were included. We identified 17 relevant articles reporting on effects of Nature by measuring 20 different physiological parameters. We assigned these parameters to one of the four body systems brain activity, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and immune function. These studies reported mainly direct and positive effects, however, our analyses revealed heterogeneous outcomes regarding significance of results. Most of the studies were conducted in Japan, based on quite small samples, predominantly with male students as participants in a cross-sectional design. In general, our narrative review provided an ambiguous illustration of the effects outdoor nature exerted on physiological parameters. However, the majority of studies reported significant positive effects. A harmonizing effect of Nature, especially on physiological stress reactions, was found across all body systems. From a Public Health perspective, interdisciplinary work on utilizing benefits of Nature regarding health promotion, disease prevention, and nature-based therapy should be optimized in order to eventually diminish given methodological limitations from mono-disciplinary studies.
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Although vegetation has been positively linked to fear of crime and crime in a number of settings, recent findings in urban residential areas have hinted at a possible negative relationship: Residents living in "greener" surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive and violent behavior. This study used police crime reports to examine the relationship between vegetation and crime in an inner-city neighborhood. Crime rates for 98 apartment buildings with varying levels of nearby vegetation were compared. Results indicate that although residents were randomly assigned to different levels of nearby vegetation, the greener a building's surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported. Furthermore, this pattern held for both property crimes and violent crimes. The relationship of vegetation to crime held after the number of apartments per building, building height, vacancy rate, and number of occupied units per building were accounted for.
Laboratory experiments and quasi-experimental field studies have documented beneficial effects of indoor plants on outcomes such as psychophysiological stress, task performance, and symptoms of ill health. Such studies have taken an interest in the value of indoor plants in work settings, but they typically have not considered how the effects of plants might compare with effects of other workplace characteristics. The present study makes an initial attempt to situate the potential benefits of indoor plants in a broader workplace context. With cross-sectional survey data from 385 Norwegian office workers, we used hierarchical regression analyses to estimate the associations that plants and several often-studied workplace factors have with perceived stress, sick leave, and productivity. Other variables included in our models were gender, age, physical workplace factors (e.g., noise, temperature, lighting, air quality), and psychosocial workplace factors (demands, control, social support). After controlling for these variables, the number of indoor plants proximal to a worker's desk had small but statistically reliable associations with sick leave and productivity. Although small, such associations can have substantial practical significance given aggregation over the large number of office workers over time.
Human health and well-being are inextricably linked to nature; our connection to the natural world is part of our biological inheritance. In this engaging book, a pioneer in the field of biophilia-the study of human beings' inherent affinity for nature-sets forth the first full account of nature's powerful influence on the quality of our lives. Stephen Kellert asserts that our capacities to think, feel, communicate, create, and find meaning in life all depend upon our relationship to nature. And yet our increasing disconnection and alienation from the natural world reflect how seriously we have undervalued its important role in our lives. Weaving scientific findings together with personal experiences and perspectives, Kellert explores how our humanity in the most fundamental sense-including our physical health, and capacities for affection, aversion, intellect, control, aesthetics, exploitation, spirituality, and communication are deeply contingent on the quality of our connections to the natural world. Because of this dependency, the human species has developed over the course of its evolution an inherent need to affiliate with nature. But, like much of what it means to be human, this inborn tendency must be learned to become fully functional. In other words, it is a birthright that must be earned. He discusses how we can restore this balance to nature by means of changes in how we raise children, educate ourselves, use land and resources, develop building and community design, practice our ethics, and conduct our everyday lives. Kellert's moving book provides exactly what is needed now: a fresh understanding of how much our essential humanity relies on being a part of the natural world.
Research and teaching in environmental health have centered on the hazardous effects of various environmental exposures, such as toxic chemicals, radiation, and biological and physical agents. However, some kinds of environmental exposures may have positive health effects. According to E.O. Wilson’s “biophilia” hypothesis, humans are innately attracted to other living organisms. Later authors have expanded this concept to suggest that humans have an innate bond with nature more generally. This implies that certain kinds of contact with the natural world may benefit health. Evidence supporting this hypothesis is presented from four aspects of the natural world: animals, plants, landscapes, and wilderness. Finally, the implications of this hypothesis for a broader agenda for environmental health, encompassing not only toxic outcomes but also salutary ones, are discussed. This agenda implies research on a range of potentially healthful environmental exposures, collaboration among professionals in a range of disciplines from public health to landscape architecture to city planning, and interventions based on research outcomes.