- This year’s NeoCon explores many themes within the office setting, namely biophilia.
- Biophilic design is a concept used within the building industry to increase human connection to the natural environment
- Our offices are healthier, calmer and more productive when we invite living things into our workspaces.
With floor after floor of innovative furniture products, this year’s NeoCon offered a wide array of creative new office solutions.
Like most well established industries, office environments don’t tend to make radical leaps quickly. The trends of the office design industry tend to come in slow waves that grow over a few seasons. Many of these emerging themes were highlighted at this year’s NeoCon.
Biophilia: The fancy word for the fact that humans innately know that it feels good to be amongst plants and nature.
Bringing living things inside makes our spaces feel less sterile and more alive – literally. Offices have had the ficus in the foyer since the days of typewriters and martini lunches, but the movement to bring the outside in is a more earnest attempt to seek connection to nature, and it goes well beyond decoration. That’s not to say plants aren’t a beautiful way to decorate, but aesthetics is not the sole objective.
The pandemic saw home gardening sky rocket. In fact, the gardening industry reported a 300% growth, with seeds and supplies sold out at hardware stores across the country. This was for several good reasons; we were stuck at home with not much else to do.
There’s also a practical comfort in growing one’s own food that times of uncertainty or crisis inspire. Our pandemic gardens were not dissimilar to the victory gardens of WWII. Yet, more intrinsically, plants have a proven calming effect. It can be very soothing to be surrounded by lush greenery, be it on a hike, at a botanical garden, or even a small home greenhouse.
Being stuck indoors made humans want to bring some of the outdoors inside in order to help us breathe a little easier in such stressful times. The actual production of more oxygen and absorption of airborne toxins certainly help too.
It’s no surprise as we venture back to our workplaces that we want to bring our helpful plant friends along this time. NeoCon offered some pretty interesting ways to do this; most prevalent were plants in shared common spaces. Almost all of these spaces had several biophilia elements; anywhere people would gather in the office had elements of nature built in. Not merely a planted pot or two, but cascades of assorted plants.
An office traditionalist would most certainly find the displays disorderly, a bit chaotic, or at least a mess waiting to happen – but that’s really what made these gathering places so inviting. It made the entire area feel relaxing, refreshing, and almost a physically cooler temperature.
Incorporated into the design of open environments is also the requirement of natural light. Introducing plants into the office has the bonus of creating these spots in areas with lots of windows, such as spaces previously often reserved for private offices or walled off meeting rooms.
Biophilic design done well also goes beyond bringing in actual plants; it needs to incorporate more natural elements, which includes natural textiles and finishes. The showrooms at NeoCon 2022 were filled with heavily textured natural woodgrains and rapidly renewable materials like bamboo, cork and soft materials like wool and various agrifibers.
Choosing these materials is an environmentally responsible choice (often contributing to LEED points) but also emotionally connects users of the space to a more natural-feeling environment.
Other areas of the spaces embraced color schemes that complement the natural tones of these materials, which allowed for the biophilia effects to transition from the common areas to individual workstations.
The fact that these plants need to be watered was not overlooked during this convention. One popular method of watering is with living walls. Sometimes these are inspired by vertical farming equipped with internally irrigated structures and small spaces for individual pods or leafy plants that can hang down to create green coverage across a horizontal area.
These can even be mobile to reposition towards light, easily refill water reservoirs, or be used as temporary space divisions. They naturally have a decent amount of sound absorption as well.
Another interesting approach was using less water and maintenance-intense organisms, like moss. With life spans measured in decades of very slow growth and low water usage, living moss can cling to vertical surfaces while thriving. Taking advantage of different colors of moss can allow for beautiful natural mosaics, murals or even some playful living branding.
Biophilia was becoming an increasingly common trend in office design even before the pandemic. However, it’s encouraging to see our return to office bringing with it an even greater appreciation of the outdoors. Our offices are healthier, calmer and more productive when we invite living things into our workspaces.