The UK’s esteemed Building Research Establishment (BRE), which runs the BREEAM rating tool, is leading a project to establish an evidence base for the benefits of biophilic offices.

The project will retrofit an existing 650 square metre 1980s building at BRE’s Watford campus, transforming it into an embodiment of biophilic design principles, while also measuring the productivity and health and wellbeing outcomes for staff.

Architect and interior designer Oliver Heath will lead the design, while industry expertise will be provided by partners including:

  • modular flooring manufacturer Interface
  • living wall company Biotecture
  • lighting and ECG sensor company Plessey
  • work environment, furniture products and services company Royal Ahrend
  • natural light skylight company Coelux
  • acoustics company Ecophon
  • real estate and project management company GVA

Each of the partners will use the office and its test facilities to evaluate how their products promote biophilia, and worker health and wellbeing.

“We spend 90 per cent of our lives in buildings, which means our health and wellbeing is influenced significantly by the built environment, BRE director of sustainable products Ed Suttie said.

“The Biophilic Office is designed to show how quantified improvements in productivity and wellness can bring rewards for landlords, occupiers, developers and all those concerned with the office environment.”

The research will see a year of pre-refurbishment monitoring and evaluation followed by a year of post-refurbishment monitoring and evaluation, covering daylight, lighting, indoor air quality, acoustic, thermal comfort and humidity comfort.

“Office occupants will undergo confidential health evaluations, and sign up to a series of online questionnaires and surveys. They will use wearable technology to monitor key health metrics,” Mr Suttie said.

The design strategy will see “tiers of intervention” in different zones, and products will also undergo laboratory evaluation to establish whether health and wellbeing potential can be quantified at the product level.

Interface’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland Karen Lambert said the company was committed to showcasing the benefits of biophilic design, and was looking forward to the findings.

“We’ve no doubt that the Biophilic Office study will provide the design industry with a wealth of quantifiable evidence demonstrating the positive impact of such workplaces on workers’ health and on business productivity,’ she said.

“This information will be an invaluable resource for designers when advising organisations on creating the best possible working environments for their employees.

BRE says the long-term study was unique in terms of its scale and the data that would be captured.

“It will provide a firm foundation for guidance and adoption of measures in the facilities management and refurbishment sectors to promote health and wellbeing in offices,” a statement said.

BRE is currently looking for more industry partners to get involved in the research.

The Fifth Estate will release an ebook on healthy offices in August.