Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Green space

Why your office is beginning to look like a forest

By Rebecca Greenfield  /  Bloomberg

People tour the four main floors of the new Amazon Spheres, a 60-feet high living wall at left, during a grand opening event last month at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington, US.

Photo: Reuters

The modern office is starting to look more like a Rainforest Cafe than a place of business. Amazon.com’s new Seattle headquarters has 40,000 plants. Down the coast, every other floor in Samsung’s two-and-a-half-year-old San Jose office space is a garden. Alibaba wants all employees in its Hangzhou workplace to be no more than a one-minute walk from an outdoor green space.

In a bid to keep workers happy, productive and, most important, in the office for as long as possible, companies have flocked to all sorts of design trends over the years. Last decade it was kegs and pingpong tables; now Mother Nature is in vogue.

The trend, called “biophilia,” is based on the idea that humans have an innate connection to nature.

“We see it as returning to what our bodies and our brains need,” said Ryan Mullenix, a design partner at NBBJ, the architecture firm that worked on the new Amazon office. It’s like Paleo, for the office.

Because the wilderness is our natural habitat, biophilia advocates say, we feel more at ease there than in a sterile office. Research has found that offices outfitted to look more like the natural world lead to happier, healthier and more productive employees.

“When you look at a tree, you’re smarter,” explained Daniel Skiffington, a senior associate at NBBJ.

Another way to look at it: If we have to be stuck inside all day without a minute to go out and get some fresh air, why not make our time in the sterile office as pleasant as possible?

Many people prefer daylight and plants to darkness and formica.

“Every day I wish for a small meteorite to crash through our building’s roof at night so we can get some sunlight in,” said Martin Bate, an analyst at BNSF Railway. Bate works in a converted factory with limited natural light.

“We’re certainly not vampires, so why don’t we have windows?”

Creating a nature-infused workplace isn’t as simple as buying a few thousand ferns. (Amazon hired a full-time horticulturist for its hyper-green space.) In its new office, North Carolina-based insurance brokerage Jackson Sumner & Associates installed View Dynamic Glass, a “smart” window that reduces glare and heat from the sunlight. No matter how bright or hot the sun shines, the company can keep the windows unobscured to let in natural light all day long.

Jackson Sumner also boasts a 26-foot-tall waterfall that puts ions into the air and uses lights with softer hues than a standard fluorescent bulb. Its pH-balanced water is filtered through copper pipes and stripped of any potentially harmful chemicals.

“Do you know where fluoride comes from? It’s a byproduct of the making of fertilizer,” said Wayne Sumner, the president and founder of Jackson Sumner. “We think that there are other ways to get fluoride.” (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 0.7 milligram of fluoride per liter of drinking water to prevent tooth decay.)

Healthy buildings have been on the rise for at least a few years. In 2014 two former Goldman Sachs partners launched the Well Building Standard, a set of guidelines for designing buildings to make people happier, healthier and more productive. (Think LEED certification, but swap environmentalism for health and wellness.) Buildings that have clean air, an emphasis on walkability and healthy food — and meet a series of other criteria in seven categories—can achieve Well certification. The International Well Building Institute lists 545 office buildings around the world that qualify.

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