DaeWha Kang Design has created an experimental work environment on the 12th floor of the Shard that has the express purpose of measuring the impact of biophilic design on worker wellness and productivity.
Working in collaboration with Mitie (the client), and Dr. Marcella Ucci (head of the MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings at the University College of London), the designers have created not only a physical space, but also a pilot study to measure the impact on employees in a detailed post-occupancy study.
Biophilia refers to human beings’ innate need for a connection with nature. Human physiology is wired to seek qualities of light, view, material, and other factors common in the natural world. This project comprises two spaces designed according to those principles: a “Living Lab” that functions as an immersive work environment, and two “Regeneration Pods” that provide short-term rest and meditation functions for the Mitie employees.
The Living Labis fully immersive, with rich and intricate patternisation, natural materials, and interactive and dynamic lighting. The room gains privacy through bamboo screens that wrap onto the ceiling above. The floor, desks, and task lights are also formed from different shades and textures of bamboo, providing a holistic organic language for the entire space.
The lighting in the room is circadian, and linked to an astronomical clock—cool blue in the morning, brilliant white in the afternoon, and firelike orange as the day winds down. The light softly breathes, very subtly shifting intensity in an almost imperceptible way, giving additional dynamism to the experience.
During the study, Mitie employees worked at these desks for four weeks at a time, answering daily surveys about their comfort, satisfaction, and emotional response. They then spent four weeks working in a control area on the same floor with similar environmental conditions but without biophilic design, and their responses were compared between the two spaces.
While studies have established the positive impact of daylight, natural materials, and a direct visual connection with nature, aesthetic design also has a strong impact. The bamboo screens strike a balance between the regular rhythm of structural ribs and the variation and playfulness of discrete leaves that maintain a sense of transparency and intricacy in the space. The leaves catch natural light but also diffuse embedded lighting within the screen itself.
While the living lab creates a sense of enveloping enclosure towards the rest of the office, it opens up towards the façade, providing long vistas and a strong connection to the sky. The Shard has a very technical aesthetic of glass and metal, and the warm bamboo palette of the Living Lab establishes a strong counterpoint to that material language.
Mitie is one of the leading outsourcing and facilities management companies in the UK, and they have created a new “Connected Workspace” initiative that incorporates sensor technology, big data, and machine learning to revolutionise the way that their portfolio of buildings are managed and maintained. The Living Lab was commissioned as part of the health, wellness, and user-experience aspect of Connected Workspace.
Following biophilic principles, the desks are beautifully crafted from natural bamboo and incorporate living plants directly into their workspace, but they also incorporate substantial technology. Achieving the experimental study on the users requires adapting for confounding environmental factors between the lab space and the control space, and on-desk sensors detect air quality, light levels, and temperature and humidity. An access card reader identifies the users and allows them to activate the task lights and charging strips, while an under-desk sensor records when they are actively working at the desk. All of this data is collected in Mitie’s data lake and can be correlated with the survey results.
Direct access to living nature is also shown to have a host of benefits, and planters are organically integrated directly into the desks together with the task lights.
The Regeneration Pods are part of Mitie’s mental health and wellness initiative, and provide a tech-free meditative moment within the workday. Like the Living Lab, the Regeneration Pods provide a sense of shelter and refuge while also maintaining beautiful views to the outside. They are curated by a behaviour psychologist in Mitie’s team who trains staff on mindfulness and meditation.
The visual language of the pods reflects their function but also creates an anchoring identity for this corner of the Shard floorplate. Giving a visual reminder of the importance of mental health and mindfulness was one of the key requirements of the design.
The Regeneration Pods also have a rich texture and material. Again following the structural logic that we see in nature, continuous ribs provide the overall stability, while individual vanes create the overall enclosure of the space. All of the complex forms were fabricated by master craftsworkers at Aldworth James & Bond, who combined high-tech digital fabrication with traditional hand-finishing techniques to achieve a silky and sensuous final result.
The soft seating within the pods are large enough for someone to lie down and rest, but also designed for sitting meditation. The additional cushions allow one to sit as if on a bench, but also take off the shoes and sit in a lotus posture.
As in the Living Lab, technology plays a role in the pods as well. Activating a pod with one’s access card begins a sound and lightscape that has been designed for mindfulness and reflection. A bell chimes three times to indicate the beginning of one’s fifteen minute period and again at the end to indicate it is time to return to the day-to-day routine of work.
A cactus garden surrounds the pods and again gives a direct connection with living nature in addition to the material and form of the experience.
The future of workplace design will include more sensors, more measurable metrics, and ambition to improve the experience for all. But ultimately design should be at the service of the human being, and finding ways to integrate the technology and data with beautiful and human-oriented design is the greater task.
This project for Mitie’s London HQ is a strong step in the direction of bringing together data and design, and working towards DaeWha Kang Design’s vision of measurably improving human wellbeing with designs of beauty and innovation.
Material Used :
1. MOSO Bamboo Surfaces - Bamboo