A growing movement in the architectural community believes that sustainable
design will reach its potential only when we begin to seriously consider how
a building affects the people who interact with it. In the last century, much
of the built environment was designed in such a way that it was disconnected
from—if not antagonistic to—the natural world and indeed, human beings.
While sustainability (and LEED principles) have become basic tenets of good
design, more can be done to design buildings and work environments with
positive impacts on health and well-being: promote movement, minimize
disruption and incorporate or evoke nature.
Creating a direct connection to nature often takes
the form of living “green” walls, indoor gardens or water features that bring
elements of the natural world into the built environment. Equally important,
buildings can be designed to elicit a restorative response by providing outdoor
views and allowing natural light to flow through the interior of the building.
• Install sufficient glazing along external walls to provide prospect views and situate enclosed spaces in the building core.
• Use glass to define enclosed spaces, especially partitions facing the external wall.
• Keep workstation partitions low (52" at the most) and orientate workstation spines perpendicular to the exterior window wall.
Materials, colors, shapes and patterns that reference nature
are analogues of “real” nature, prompting a biophilic response in human beings.
Design offers a myriad of ways to evoke nature: textiles that employ colors,
textures and patterns drawn from nature; furniture with organic shapes and
lighting that mimics the shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. Interiors might
even be designed to give the impression of being out of doors by combining
wood and stone elements with abundant vegetation and water features.
represent natural spaces
Because human beings respond both psychologically
and physiologically to the qualities and configurations of space,
architecture offers a subtle, but powerful, way to affect our mental and emotional
state. The most engaging spaces replicate the character of the natural landscape
and the design of many of our earliest dwellings—offering an experience of
both prospect and refuge; exhilarating views and intimate nooks in which to
withdraw from the flow of activity. Transitional spaces that create visual and
physical connections are also important and include: thresholds, portals, bridges
and fenestration. Lastly, design can approximate the sensory stimulation of the
natural landscape by varying color, pattern, light, sound and elements of scale
to convey both complexity and a reassuring sense of order.
In essence, an “active workplace” provides a variety
of spaces designed for specific types of work, encouraging workers to move
from space to space to complete different tasks throughout the workday.
Ideally, the office plan will provide formal and casual meeting spaces with
varied degrees of openness or enclosure. Furniture can include lounge chairs
and sofas gathered around low tables to allow for relaxed postures, as well as
a meeting table and work chairs. Writable or pin-able walls invite workers to
walk to a shared space to confer with colleagues. Attractive stairways connect
people as well as floor levels.
While applying strategies to get workers moving across the floorplate, design
can also act as a catalyst to movement by providing efficient, easy-to-use
height adjustable desks and tables at the individual workstation, in meeting
rooms and in shared workspaces. Thus, workers can sit or stand at will.
This ability to change one’s posture has significant physiological benefits,
but also provides a sense of control and empowerment conducive to worker
engagement and satisfaction.
Activity or context-based floorplans encourage physical and psychological
health by allowing people to choose to work where they like. According to
personal preference, workers can elect to tackle the task at hand at a traditional
or standing desk, in a lounge area or café booth or inside a closed-door office.
Adjustable furniture, along with lightweight furniture that can be dismantled,
folded or rolled offers a complementary strategy for encouraging movement
and improving worker health and performance.
Disruption of attention and focus while working
causes stress, errors and fatigue. In today’s open work environments, it is essential
to address noise levels with sound absorbing elements: wall-coverings, carpet,
acoustic ceilings or special ceiling treatments, window treatments and perhaps,
“white noise.” Further, the office should offer non-assigned spaces for heads-down work that offer protection from the chatter and clatter of the open workspace. These places of refuge can take the form of small team rooms, one-on-one booths and quiet rooms where conversation and mobile phones are verboten.
While a certain amount of visual and auditory input can be stimulating,
the presence of too much fluctuating activity and noise is exhausting—especially for thoughtful introverts. In a healthy office, there is recognition
that concentration and quiet reflection are part of the collaborative process,
modalities that require a degree of privacy and freedom from disruption. Most
of us have new ideas on our own and then work with others to develop thoughts
more fully. Always, it’s important to consider the wide range of people with
different personalities and different needs.
As the world continues to urbanize and more people work longer hours
indoors, often at a computer, it becomes ever more important to employ design
to reduce stress, enhance creativity and improve mental and physical health.
We need design that connects us with nature, that supports our biological
need to move and our emotional need to occasionally withdraw to think or
rest as much as we need the means to draw people together and connect their
working thoughts and ideas.