Psychologists and productivity specialists have found that employees—from executives to assembly line workers—benefit from having access to natural lighting and growing plants.
Exterior views are important, but interior courtyards, live greenery, opening windows, comfortable break rooms and attractive dining facilities are not only nice to look at; they increase employee satisfaction, boost retention rates, increase productivity, and add to a company’s success. The bonus is that improving workplace aesthetics can also decrease energy costs, contribute to better air quality and reduce time lost due to illness.
Sustainability and green design are more than concepts today. They define the future.
Innovative building solutions not only help companies improve employee performance, but those same design elements contribute to health and wellness and enhance the environment.
Shaped by Demand
In part, the emergence of a more demanding work force has prompted these new trends. The built environment will be altered to reflect the sensitivities of Millennials and the members of Generation X and Y just as social media is defined by their habits.
Mark Kushner, in a book entitled The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, calls it the "Age of Experimentation." Old norms are no longer sustainable.
Kushner is not alone in insisting that architectural elements of the future will be more environmentally friendly, more flexible, more efficient and less reliant on mechanical systems and past traditions. Innovative shapes, reused and repurposed natural materials, renovation and restoration of older buildings and new techniques shape the face of urban renewal as well as new construction.
Smaller building footprints herald a time of more effective space utilization, and integrated interior and exterior environments all play into the mix.
Emerging trends Include:
- Interior as well as exterior landscaping
- Easier access to the outdoors
- Open floor plans and multi-use flexible space
- Insistence on energy efficiency
- Unique forms
Green Design—Inside and Out
It has long been accepted that attractive exterior elements attract customers and are good for business. It is now acknowledged that psychological as well as economic benefits are measurable in terms of employee satisfaction and increased production.
It matters little whether it is a manufacturing plant or a think tank. Pleasant work space boosts the bottom line. Natural elements that surround a building provide a tie to nature that is beneficial to both customers and workers. Being able to look out upon green space from an interior office stimulates creativity, reduces stress, increases job performance and contributes to loyalty and enthusiasm.
In addition, green infrastructure like living roofs and advanced stormwater management, permeable paving and rain gardens is touted by municipalities as a way to reduce utility costs, save resources, and build a better future. Commercial real estate companies list innovative building solutions as major factors in adding value.
Interior landscaping is gaining momentum. This relatively new field benefits air quality, productivity, employee satisfaction and energy efficiency.
More efficient mechanical systems can be integrated into building design, too. Architects can bundle both equipment and monitoring systems in well-designed architectural chases, group working elements such as HVAC components in logical locations, provide built in support such as fiber optics and security systems. It’s time to rethink relationships between human needs and technology.
Remote controls for window blinds and sunshades can be used to "follow the sun" and control the interior environment, minimizing the need for artificial climate control and lighting. Circulating water elements can add humidity, be used to purify and treat necessary supply systems and can also be visually calming. Heat and glare from lighting can be managed and background noise can be controlled through thoughtful selection of materials.
Physical Space Affects Productivity
Relationships between productivity and workspace environment act in three separate ways, according to Judith Heerwagen, formerly a scientist with Pacific Northwest Research Laboratory (now affiliated with the General Services Administration). She notes that a building can positively affect motivation, ability and opportunity, and that all three are related in terms of enhancing human performance.
Health and safety considerations should not play second fiddle to mood and engagement, but must be totally integrated in order to ensure optimum benefit. Future designers and architects may know this instinctively. If they forget, however, they are sure to be reminded of the needs and desires of the new breed of worker who demands a better, greener, more humanized environment as a condition of employment.
This future is definitely worth embracing. Are you ready for it?