Working from home has become the norm for so many and employers who want staff in an office are having to consider how they can make that a more attractive proposition.
Another side effect of the pandemic has been a renewed appreciation of plants, gardens and nature and their beneficial impact on health and wellbeing, with the Horticultural Trades Association reporting 3 million people taking up gardening.
It’s no surprise then these two trends are combining to influence urban landscapes that look to the future.
Richard Sabin is helping to drive this change. A civil engineer by background, he is the director of Biotecture, a company that specialises in biophilic design.
Biophilic design is about creating a built environment that incorporates elements of nature, based on the understanding that people have an innate affinity with the natural world.
Richard said: ‘Biophilic design is, in my mind, little more than working in tune with nature. As a species our awareness of the need to reconnect with nature has increased dramatically because of the pandemic.
'Whether we know it as biophilic design by name or not, so many of us now instinctively know that being surrounded by plants is good for us.’
The importance of workspace design is underlined by research where 94 per cent of staff viewed their working environment as a reflection of how they are valued as employees, but only 39 per cent felt their working environment has been designed with them in mind. Among the key factors mentioned for workplace satisfaction in office design are natural light, good ventilation and greenery.
Richard believes the pandemic has created a major opportunity to create environments designed for people, spaces with cleaner air that will enhance physical health and reduce sick leave, as well as improve concentration, engagement and creativity.
The knock-on effects are a motivated, happier, healthier workforce and ultimately higher staff retention, which is a significant factor in the current jobs market. Little wonder then, that employers are interested in what biophilic design can offer.
‘At Biotecture, we are seeing and are working on urban regeneration projects that are greening up our cities that come as a direct result of the pandemic showing us our need to reconnect with nature,’ said Richard.
‘Placemakers are recognising that if they want to encourage people back into spaces, they need to redesign their portions of the urban landscapes to incorporate natural features.
'The multiple benefits that come from bringing nature into our cities are influencing a number of our clients and so we have biophilic design being driven by both top-down and bottom-up drivers.
'Even in smaller space with tighter budgets, the mere insertion of plants creates a sense of satisfaction and just staring at a plant is proven to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.’
Biophilic design in practice
Plants are incorporated into design both internally and externally by Biotecture.
‘Living walls’ are a way of putting plants into a workspace without taking up valuable floor area. They have acoustic benefits too, helping to absorb sound, creating a less distracting environment.
Plant walls take pollutants from the air, balance humidity and can reduce carbon dioxide levels by between 10 and 25 per cent.
As well as offices and restaurants, locations using them include Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 and the Glasgow Science Centre.
Externally, living walls can also help to improve biodiversity, reduce urban temperatures and benefit buildings’ thermal performance.
They can be seen in settings ranging from a shopping centre in Leicester, to the regeneration of 1960s flats in Woking.