Real Estate

Human beings are instinctively drawn to nature. They can be mesmerized watching the soft sway of tall grasses or a butterfly’s flight. There’s something about a linkage with nature that enlivens almost any circumstance involving people. That includes long-awaited returns to offices after pandemic-plagued years of remote work.

So who could blame office building owners and managers, as well as employers, for trying to include a newly biophilic focus at their buildings and headquarters?

They know incorporation of natural elements is likely to make the return more palatable for workers. If stumped for ideas on how to create more biophilic work settings, all owners and employers need do is examine nature-linked initiatives increasingly on display across North America.

These range from the growing numbers of green roofs atop office buildings to at least one corporation’s support of office campus beekeeping.

Restorative effects

The full restorative value of nature was laid bare in a recent study by the University of Vermont. Respondents revealed that in nature, they cherished a greater sense of mental health and well-being (59%), sense of identity (23%) and spirituality (22%), as well as a number of other restorative effects.

During the pandemic, outdoor activities grew dramatically in favor, the study reported. Those showing the largest hikes in popularity included watching wildlife (up 64%), gardening (57%), taking photos or creating art in nature (54%), relaxing alone outside (58%) and walking in the great outdoors (70%).

This hasn’t escaped notice of workplace designers.

“In dense cities like New York, the integration of micro green spaces that foster these experiences is becoming more common,” says Jonce Walker, director of sustainability and wellness at international design, planning and architecture firm HLW International, who suggested the examples of nature’s beauty in this article’s second sentence. “‘Elevated biophilia’ can be found on the terraces and rooftops on both existing and new buildings, and the growth is exciting, no pun intended.

“From multi-sensory vegetated rooftops like the one we designed for a recent, confidential technology client to a sedum blanket roof we designed for Brooklyn Street, our clients recognize the value of ecological solutions.”

Hive of activity

At the Toronto, Ont. offices of Teknion Corporation, the designer, manufacturer and marketer of office systems, a pair of beehives were installed five years ago. It was the company’s way of combating the decline of honeybee populations in urban Ontario.

“We weren’t thinking beyond how we could continue in some small way to support the growth of the honeybee population,” said Oona Walsh, director of corporate marketing for Teknion. “What really surprised me was how much these bees started to mean to us. I could see people gathered by the windows watching the hive’s activity, and the pride we took in the very small bits of honey that they produced.

“The hives have become more than an experiment or an activity. They became something that we all feel a sense of ownership and affection for.”

Some Teknion employees even went so far as to write about the Toronto headquarters’ 40,000 bees’ positive impact on their own work productivity. Pronouncing herself “inspired by their work ethic,” one repeatedly noted the bees’ remarkable ability to communicate with one another while completing a task. During Covid, she found the bees great role models at a time employees also had to learn entirely new ways to communicate with colleagues and clients through virtual meetings and webinars.

In addition, the drones were able to impart lessons in how to complete work through prioritization of tasks, and how to relax and rejuvenate themselves for the next day’s labors through their tendency to work one-third of the time and rest the remainder.   

Bees are a vital cog in the natural order, and growing evidence suggests nature is vital to human health and productivity. As additional proof emerges, watch for more and more office designers to stay as busy as bees integrating biophilia into their work.

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