Click on each number to read that goal.
We live in an age of transformation. The office culture of old, dominated by an absolute subservience to the bottom line, has started to vanish now that many companies have started fostering a new, more human-focused workplace. Corporations such as Google and Apple have realized that a product or service may be their ultimate goal, but that it’s their employees—the people—who enable them to be financially successful. As more architecture firms attempt to create a holistic workplace culture, they should be looking to nature—and its never-ending pursuit of balance—for some important lessons.
We’re fortunate now to have decades of mounting research and data that prove the benefits of nature-inspired design. In her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus makes a compelling case for deriving inspiration from nature to tackle human problems. As we design our future offices, we should enhance our connections to and relationships with nature. Firms should explore using onsite renewable solar-power and wind-energy technologies. And they should design interior spaces that have ample daylight, clean air, and strong visual connections to nature.
Daily exposure to daylight, outside views, and access to green spaces yield improved learning, health, job satisfaction, increased productivity, and reduced stress. Our employees, who enhance our bottom lines, need nourishment—the tangible and intangible things that stimulate and empower them—if they are to reach their potential. Biophilia, a concept pioneered by E.O. Wilson, the noted evolutionary biologist, suggests that nature is our ultimate nourishment. Humans who share a direct, beneficial relationship with nature will take respective measures to ensure its preservation.
Yet we’ve severed many of our ties with nature. Consider our connection with food. The growing, gathering, preparing, and eating of food remains a fundamental human activity that brings us together, fuels conversation, and gives us a creative outlet. During the last century, though, food production has become increasingly industrialized and dominated by mass production.
Today’s developed global societies have largely lost touch with the origins of food, its production, and its preparation. We have lost out on the nourishment that a deeper relationship with food can provide. The act of eating has become a largely passive, secondary activity—something we do over a keyboard or in the car, amid so many other distractions that we hardly notice the food at all, much less consider or appreciate where or how it was grown, who produced it, or how it came to us.
Sadly, the modern office all too often reflects this modern take on food as an afterthought. In an unscientific survey conducted by ARCHITECT magazine, 84 percent of respondents said that their firms provide only a simple kitchenette with a basic microwave, toaster, and refrigerator for food preparation. Moreover, while 60 percent of firms offered a break room for eating, and 35 percent had an outdoor space or picnic area, just 8 percent offered a designated dining room. (See more data by clicking on the interactive graphic at the top of this page.)
Many firm employees, if they don’t eat at their desks, must find space in multipurpose or conference rooms. Most importantly, the survey results suggested that most companies fail to take full advantage of the incredible nurturing power that can come from sharing food experiences as a business community.
We can change the future—by design. Nature-inspired design is not an unpragmatic luxury but can help create happier and more productive employees. Firms are indeed starting to change their focus and spend investment dollars to improve their workplace cultures. They are beginning to see the connection between the benefits of green spaces, healthy food culture, productivity, employee retention, and job satisfaction.
Positive change is coming. By design, we need nourishment, but through design, we are unlocking its power. Amid the vestiges of the 20th-century workplace inspired by corporate America, we have started to envision and design a new workplace. Here is our manifesto for how nourishment will make that office of the future a more inspired place to be.