1. Pasona Tokyo Headquarters, Japan

Evidence Space - Tokyo Headquarters Pasona

Pasona Tokyo Headquarters is an office building dedicating 3,995 square metres of space to an urban farm that grows food for employees. It was created in 2010 by renovating a 50 year-old nine storey building.

The farm is maintained by office employees and cafeteria staff at the recruitment firm, who are supported by a team of agricultural specialists. From tomatoes to rice, more than 200 plant species grow within working spaces, whether hanging from conference room ceilings or being used as partitions. All food is harvested and prepared within the on-site cafeteria, making Pasona the largest office-based farm-to-table scheme in Japan.

For architect Yoshimi Kono, founder of Konodesigns, the aim was to generate interest in nature and urban farming among both employees and local people, changing the way Tokyo residents think about their lives and the world they live in. Alongside these wide-reaching benefits, the initiative is likely to have a positive impact on the organisation, with recent findings showing that offices with natural elements such as greenery increase both wellbeing and creativity by 15%, and boost productivity by 6% [3].

To create an environment where plants and employees can co-exist happily, air flow, humidity and temperature and carefully regulated. Of course, the plants themselves contribute to improved air quality for occupants, removing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Both air quality and temperature are important factors in employee wellbeing, contributing to biological, physiological and mental health. While poor air quality can cause symptoms like headaches and dizziness, research has shown that every 10% decrease in dissatisfaction with air quality improves productivity by 1.1% [4].

The building also features a rooftop garden and a green façade made up of seasonal flowers and orange trees, making plants a prominent feature outside as well as inside. The farm creates a calm contrast with the hustle and bustle of the capital’s metropolitan area. It has created something of a local buzz, with nearby office workers relishing the greenery in what is otherwise a concrete jungle.

2. Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Scotland

Evidence Space - Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

The sky’s the limit when it comes to improving patient wellbeing at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The NHS teaching hospital has embraced the benefits of nature in healthcare settings by installing a 6' x 18' Luminous SkyCeiling on one of its wards. With a catchment area of more than 60,000 people, the aim was to make the ward feel lighter, more spacious and closer to nature, helping patients to relax during what is often a stressful time.

The technology from US company Sky Factory creates optical illusions that bring blue skies and verdant foliage to rooms lacking natural views. Other products use realistically lit 4k footage featuring drifting clouds and rustling leaves. Clients can choose from a range of natural scenes, from skyward prospects to underwater views.

The logic behind the installation is that natural aesthetics support patient wellbeing. A recent study of inpatient hospital settings found that for patients who had Luminous SkyCeilings above their beds, acute stress decreased by more than half, and anxiety by over a third [5]. Added to this, an older study by Ulrich demonstrated an 8% reduction in hospitalisation time for patients with natural views [6]. Nature has even been shown to reduce levels of pain in hospital patients [7].

David Navarrete, Director of Research Initiatives at Sky Factory, explains that, “Standard nature imagery evokes nature in a symbolic way whereas a multisensory illusion of nature alters their perception of interior space.” He adds, “By connecting patients to a perceived natural exterior, we generate a deeper therapeutic effect. Evidence-based design has just begun to explore the deeper restorative impact of optical illusions in healthcare settings.”

3. New Zealand Supreme Court

Evidence Space - New Zealand Supreme Court

The design of a huge orb-shaped courtroom in Wellington called for an innovative acoustic solution. The room’s 3D elliptical profile threatened to distort speech and produce distracting sound effects, clearly a problem in a setting used for hearing evidence.

Acoustic consultants at ICE Design Australia needed something that would capture the grandeur of the space while enabling natural-sounding speech. Working with architects Warren and Mahoney, they combined sound diffusion and absorption, using 2,845 diamond shaped panels at points in the room where sound naturally focused.

Near floor level, the panels are flat to reflect sound and keep speech loud and clear, while the mid-wall region diffuses sound and absorbs low frequencies. Near the top of the room, the panels are highly perforated to control reverberation that could hinder court proceedings.

Noise is an all-too-familiar problem in most workplaces, and a recent survey of professionals in the UK revealed that being able to focus and work without interruptions is the highest priority in working environments [1]. Glenn Leembruggen, Principal at ICE Design Australia, explains that, “As courtrooms are daily working environments with speech being the primary activity, it is essential that courtroom acoustics provide an extremely comfortable acoustic environment for all participants.”

For the judges who use the building, it was important to connect the indoors with the outdoors, tying the design in with aspects of New Zealand’s natural landscape. This connection is reflected in the spiral arrangement of the timber panels, inspired by cones from New Zealand’s native Kauri tree. At the same time, angled glass blades form a floral motif in the skylight, which lets in plenty of natural light and offers further acoustic diffusion.

The allusion to local flora and fauna extends to the exterior of the building, where recycled bronze mirrors the shape of pohutukawa and rata trees, significant in New Zealand’s Māori culture. Biomorphic patterns such as these have been shown to reduce stress and enhance concentration [2], both of which are valuable in a courtroom context. 

Each of these factors helps create a biophilic design with a tangible impact on the building’s usability. As Glenn Leembruggen concludes, “The result is not only an extraordinary architectural achievement, but also an excellent sounding room with speech being extremely natural and very comfortable for all listeners.”

4. House Sar, South Africa

Evidence Space - House Sar

The owners of a single storey house in Johannesburg were tired of dark rooms and obstructed views, and approached Nico van der Meulen Architects in search of a solution.

They sought something that was minimalist and contemporary, while opening up the space and letting light flood in.

Designer Werner van der Meulen rose to the challenge, introducing large glass sliding doors that bring living areas vis-à-vis with the garden. Indeed, glass is a pervasive theme throughout the property, creating a drastic contrast with the previously enclosed space. 

Flat roofs at different levels add to this effect, letting light stream in from every direction and illuminating each part of the house. And while it remains single storey, high ceilings add to the sense of light and spaciousness. Exposure to natural lighting patterns helps maintain the body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates serotonin and melatonin production [2]. This hormonal balance has been linked with a number of aspects of wellbeing, from depression to breast cancer.

At the same time, the ability to remove thresholds between inside and outside introduces an abundance of fresh air. This could do more than keep occupants feeling refreshed, with natural air flow having been shown to help prevent sick building syndrome [2].

A swimming pool and water feature enhance the sense of luxury at this property, and bring it even closer to nature. Access to water has a number of benefits, including improved mood and self-esteem, and reduced stress [2].

Inside the house, oak panelling creates a warming, natural atmosphere that is undeniably modern at the same time. In addition, a combination of metals and fabrics boost the material connection with nature.

This design truly brings the outdoors in, creating a fluid, seamless space that does away with conventional boundaries.

References

[1] Oxford Economics (2016), ‘When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace’.
[2] Browning, W.D., Ryan, C.O. and Clancy, J.O. (2014), ‘14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’, Terrapin Bright Green llc, New York.
[3] Human Spaces (2015), ‘The global impact of biophilic design in the workplace’.
[4] Wargocki, P., Lagercrantz, L., Witterseh, T., Sundell, J., Wyon, D.P., and Fanger, P. O. (2002), ‘Subjective perceptions, symptom intensity and performance: a comparison of two independent studies, both changing similarly the pollution load in an office’, Indoor Air, Vol. 12, pp. 74-80.
[5] Pati, D., Freier, P., O’Boyle, M., Amor, C., Valipoor, S. (2015), ‘The Impact of Simulated Nature on Patient Outcomes: A Study of Photographic Sky Compositions’, Health Environments Research & Design Journal, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 36 – 51.
[6] Ulrich, R. (1984), ‘View through a window may influence recovery from surgery’, Science, vol. 224, pp. 420–421.
[7] Park, S. and Mattson, R. (2008), ‘Effects of flowering and foliage plants in hospital rooms on patients recovering from abdominal surgery’, Horttechnology, vol. 18, pp. 563–568.