Compiled by Facility Executive
From the June 2023 Issue
Biophilic design is about more than just bringing plants and shrubs inside, but about creating spaces that mimic natural environments—such as incorporating circadian rhythm lighting or having artwork with natural scenery. Studies have shown that creating a space with biophilic design principles can help reduce stress, enhance mood, and support productivity all while creating a calming environment.
An example of this design in action: when talent acquisition scaleup Jobilla decided to move its offices to Berlin, the company knew it wanted to enhance its new indoor environment for employees.
“Previously, we worked in an office with poor ventilation in some parts,” says Tommi Siro, Co-Founder and CGO of Jobilla. “In this conference room, the air quality was particularly bad, so we began looking for solutions.”
The company opted to improve its new spaces by adding living walls, which were designed and installed by Finnish indoor nature technology company Naava. To learn more about this project, and about how biophilic design can enhance workspaces, Facility Executive spoke with Eeva Niemelä, Head of Project Business & Design at Naava.
Tell us about Jobilla’s Helsinki offices. What are some of the benefits the office is now seeing thanks to the addition of the living walls?
Jobilla’s office in Helsinki was built in premises where they needed to modify the layout in order to meet their requirements. That resulted in a situation where not all the space was properly equipped with adequate ventilation and good air quality. Jobilla started to seek solutions to make it possible for their staff to spend longer times at the office without experiencing negative effects of poor air quality such as fatigue, headaches, and brain fog. At first, they were a bit skeptical that a green wall could help with their issue. But when they understood how Naava purifies air 100 times more efficiently than ordinary plants and is also humidifying the air, and that it has helped people with indoor air symptoms, they wanted to test Naava in their premises. That test was successful—Naavas at their office were significantly improving the indoor air quality and people’s well-being. They could spend the whole long day at the office without feeling tired and could leave for home feeling still energized. That is also helping the work-life balance. Jobilla is constantly looking for solutions to unleash the full potential of its employees by improving the working environment.
With living walls, how do you determine the types of plants featured? Some flowers may release pollen, which can irritate allergies, and some plants may increase the humidity of a space, which can lead to mold spores and require a dehumidifier. How can facility managers ensure they’re getting the right mix of plants in living walls to ensure spaces are comfortable for every occupant?
We have tested over 100 different species and ended up with nine species that we currently use. There are three principles on how to choose the Naava plants, which we call biofilters. First, plants have to be allergy-friendly—we don’t use any plants releasing pollen or odors; they also need to be resilient enough to be able to be super-boosted air purifiers in our system. Thirdly they need to be visually durable and look good in a vertical garden. Regarding the increased humidity, since Naava is measuring this, it doesn’t allow air humidity to increase sufficiently to harm the building or people. It decreases the amount of watering and lowers the fan speed if the humidity rises too high. Our plant experts are choosing the plants so facility managers and especially space users can just enjoy the right kind of mix which is beautiful, powerful and safe. As biofilters, we are using philodendron, dragon leaf and aralia, all in different variants. Naava’s biofilters don’t include any soil, so no mold or bugs can live in the growth medium.
I’d like to learn more about biophilic design, and why it’s important for commercial and industrial buildings to consider. Do you have any advice for facilities looking to design spaces with natural elements?
Biophilic design is a concept that affects each and every one of us positively, no matter what our personal tastes or preferences are. Therefore, it is a great concept to follow in any kind of space design—in offices, commercial buildings or residential spaces. Humans are about 300,000 years old as a species, but we have only had 100 years to get used to living in urban environments. Our bodies and minds are definitely not used to handling spending 90% of our time indoors in artificial environments. In order for our nervous system to be calm and optimal for top performance and good health, we need to experience natural elements in our environment. We constantly explore our surroundings, consciously and subconsciously. All the time, we seek elements that tell us that the space is safe and viable: living greenery, natural light, safety and privacy, other animals and their sounds, food and water. If these elements don’t occur in a space, our flight-and-fight mode, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we feel stressed out, and our health gradually worsens.
Elements of biophilic design can be categorized into three groups: direct nature connection, such as real plants, real natural light and pure natural air. Indirect nature connection, such as natural colors, natural materials, textures and patterns, organic shapes and forms, natural soundscape and nature-mimicking tech-enabled lights. The third category is the natural feeling of the environment, meaning space-dividing elements which give the space a natural and surprising rhythm and privacy. For example, no one wants to work in a completely open office—in a modern desert without no elements giving signals that the space is safe and viable.
I advise trying to incorporate a few elements from each category as much as you can. Of course, the strongest element is the direct nature connection because it is the most real. Therefore, bringing living greenery into the space, even in large quantities is not an overkill. In nature, we can see lots of greenery at the same time, but not for example, wood material or stone. You can apply the same proportions of natural elements indoors as we can see outdoors in fresh nature. It is actually quite fun to play with the concept and explore different kinds of organic shapes, materials and forms and other biophilic solutions.
An experiment shows employees make 43% fewer mistakes in the presence of plants and biophilic design. Read more…
What else is important to discuss when it comes to living walls, and green design?
Traditionally, people think about living green walls as being built onto the actual wall itself, which is one of the use cases of course. Nowadays, living walls are care-free tech-enabled design furniture that work as a functional piece in the office. They can be an acoustic space divider which you can flexibly move around as the office layout constantly changes. You can also put a whiteboard on the other side of it, and wheels under to make it a functional office element as well as a beautiful decoration.
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