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Let the Sunshine In: Bringing Biophilia Into the Office of the Future

Sep 22, 2023

Guest Post by David McCullough, Principal Landscape Architect at McCullough

As employees return to the office, many companies are reimagining what that experience will look like.

While the allure of Class A office spaces remains strong due to their perceived amenities, there’s an exciting trend emerging—a creative reinvention of all types of office spaces. Landscape architecture is playing a pivotal role in transforming these spaces into collaborative, inspiring, and environmentally conscious workplaces.

Across various industries, employees are voicing a strong desire for “creative spaces.” These spaces aren’t just about aesthetics; they are designed to foster active collaboration, promote well-being, offer abundant natural light and fresh air, and incorporate biophilic elements (natural elements or forms of life). While incorporating these elements into new office designs might seem straightforward, the real challenge lies in revitalizing existing buildings. How can you breathe new life into dated Class B buildings and make them appealing to both employees and environmentally conscious consumers?

Revitalizing Class B buildings offers tremendous value, not just in terms of cost savings but also in supporting environmental goals. According to research from JLL, New York City alone boasts over 150 million square feet of Class B offices, with Class A office rent prices outpacing Class B rents by 33% in 2021. This discrepancy presents a golden opportunity for companies looking to revamp existing spaces and create attractive, sustainable workplaces without breaking the bank.

3 ways to rebuild with biophilia

  1. Connect existing indoor and outdoor spaces. No longer limited to static aesthetic embellishments, exterior spaces have evolved to become active extensions of the interior requiring the design of direct, seamless connections between spaces. Planned correctly, these inviting spaces bridge form and function to consider the practical year-round use of inhabitants, be it seasonal conditioning for warmth and cooling, or protection from adverse weather. In Southern California, for example, some forward-thinking office space developers are seeing comparable returns on rentable rates for their exterior courtyards as the interior spaces.
  2. Bring out the sledgehammer. Large floorplate buildings often suffer from limited access to natural light and ventilation due to high, obstructive walls. Breaking down or eliminating unnecessary high walls allows natural light to penetrate deeper into the building core, brightening up the workspace. Enhanced views and better access to the outdoors can be achieved by incorporating biophilic elements such as skylights and lower walls that enable natural light to support indoor plant life. Should it allow, consider modifying the roof line to open up new internal spaces and create natural exterior courtyards within the building core. This not only rejuvenates the office but also enhances its connection to nature and the outdoors.
  3. Save money while saving nature. Surprisingly, the most budget-friendly way to revamp older buildings is by going au naturel. Creating a workplace that resonates with employees is about more than just aesthetics—it’s about creating an environment that is warm, inviting, creative, and exciting. Many companies are moving away from the cold, lifeless, and stale corporate settings of the past. Instead, they are infusing their existing spaces with natural stone, wood, plant material, and rich colors that are proving to be considerably less expensive when compared to new ground-up construction. These elements not only add visual appeal but also contribute to a more sustainable and biophilic office environment.

The future of office design is in a constant state of flux. It adapts to the evolving needs and desires of employees. Landscape designers are poised to lead the way in this transformation, with a focus on health, well-being, a connection to nature, creativity, and collaboration as their guiding principles.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever altered the way we view and utilize office spaces. Remote work is here to stay in some capacity, but the office remains an essential hub for collaboration, innovation, and team bonding. To ensure its relevance and attractiveness, companies are investing in the biophilic makeover of their office spaces.

The office of the future is no longer just a place for work; it’s a destination that nourishes the human spirit, fosters creativity, and connects us with the natural world. As employees return to these revitalized spaces, they’ll discover that the office isn’t just a place to clock in and out—it’s a vibrant, biophilic ecosystem that inspires, rejuvenates, and transforms.

David W. McCullough, ASLA, PLA is Principal Landscape Architect at McCullough

CoreNet Global