Could Your Building’s Design Affect Your Health?

The Biophilic Design Summit taking place at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden will be devoted to the connection between humans and nature to happiness in the workplace.

Google Pittsburgh office photo courtesy of Strada

Google’s office at Bakery Square in East Liberty has a lot of eye-catching design elements, including an impressively true-to-life Kennywood theme on the third floor, but one of the consistent themes throughout the building is the natural lighting that floods through the abundance of oversized windows.

There also is not one constant temperature from room to room, and the office’s airflow feels more like a gentle outdoor breeze. There also are “refuge,” or alcove, spaces tucked throughout the building where employees can rest, recharge or talk.

At The Frick Environmental Center in Squirrel Hill, floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the outdoor landscaping connect visitors with nature, while the Phipp’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes has natural ventilation that is used to reduce energy use and increase user comfort. Various sculptures and patterns found throughout the center are reminiscent of natural forms.

These are all examples of biophilic design, a concept that brings people and nature together in the home or office as a way to promote health and productivity.

“The basic principle is that humans have an innate connection to nature and are always seeking ways to strengthen that connection in some way, shape or form,” says Natalie Stewart, communications director at Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance.

Stewart says studies have shown that bringing the outdoors inside — examples include windows with views of the outdoors, adding living walls and increasing natural lighting — can reduce employee stress and anxiety levels while upping productivity and happiness.

“It mirrors, in general, a shift toward human-centered design,” she says of biophilic design, adding the concept goes beyond just adding a few houseplants to the office. “It’s not just preserving ecological features, it’s about what the impact is on people’s health.”

The design concept is one that has been catching on across the country, including in Pittsburgh.

In fall of 2016, Pittsburgh was designated a Biophilic City, joining a network of other communities across the country — among them Phoenix, San Francisco and Portland — and across the world with a commitment to adding nature and sustainability to its infrastructure plans.

In Pittsburgh, that commitment includes developing more greenways, eliminating the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and increasing the city’s tree canopy from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2030, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens hosts monthly meetings of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Biophilia Network. On March 9, the conservatory will join the Green Building Alliance, the International Living Future Institute and the Living Product Hub in hosting the city’s first Biophilic Design Summit.

Taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Phipps, the summit includes workshops and exercises led by some of the leading practitioners in biophilic design.

Among the speakers are architect Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute and the author of “Creating Biophilic Buildings,” and Patricia Culley, an associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a national architecture firm noted for its sustainable designs.

The women also will be tackling the topic of Biophilia as part of GBA’s Inspire Speakers Series taking place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 8 at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium at the Hill House's Kaufmann Center in the Hill District. 

Both events are open to the public. Tickets to the summit are $149 for Green Building Alliance members and $199 for non-members. Tickets for the Inspire Speakers Series are $20. For tickets, visit here.


Categories: Nest