The green shoots of recovery

A breath of fresh air

Sound baffles, hanging gardens, waterfalls, sandyfloors, lounges, kindergartens. All over the worldcompanies are offering employees far more than basicworkplaces. Offices are becoming important conveyors of corporate identity in their own right. And the greening of our offices plays an increasingly huge role in our physical and psychological wellbeing.

Indoor Landscaping

Although the principles behind indoor landscaping are still in the early stages of gaining worldwide acceptance, it pays to employ professional gardeners to caryout work if you want to avoid the aesthetic and unhygienic jungle that ensues when everybody does their own thing.

The foolish run, the clever wait and the wise go into the garden.
Rabindranath Tagore, 1861–1941

The global imperative to pursue a green attitude towards life has been embraced by businesses with as much enthusiasm as it has by individuals. And as well as all of the usual elements you would expect to find in an environmental business philosophy, it is an attitude that for many firms has invaded the very walls of its buildings, where grass on walls and trees in atria are now seen as completely unremarkable. Indeed more and more knowledge workers demand a working environment that incorporates natural design features and which helps to promote their health and wellbeing. In order to meet these new expectations and address the more general upheaval in the way we work, a growing number of companies of all types and sizes are adopting a more broadly socially acceptable corporate identity and it has a distinctly green hue. This is the colourthat represents nature, sustainability and modernity. Although plants in offices are certainly nothing new, there have been many times in the past where they were viewed with a certain element of disdain by some people, not least because they usually meant the erratic distribution of a few simple plant pots, many of them fake. Nowadays when we talk about interior planting, we are usually referring to a well considered specification from a professional interior landscaper. Such designs typically reflect a well thought-out overall concept and a range of imaginative features which not only look good but also improve the indoor environment in other ways by improving air quality and acoustics, helping to define space and play with light and colour. How this works in practice should be defined by the priorities of the organisation and the people who work for it. What all schemes have in common however is the knowledge that the greening of a workplace can have a significant impact on the individuals who work there.

Living Oases

Counterpoints in green. Planting can be especially important in open plan offices and public spaces such as foyers and reception because not only does it improve the office climate, it also helps to define space and create zones of calm, helping everybody to be more productive at work.

Green plants help to save costs
The greening of receptions, courtyards, stairwells, halls and offices is often the sign of an enlightened and integrated approach to the health of staff. There are plenty of reasons for this. Not only do plants humidify and oxygenate the air, soften background noise and filter pollutants, they also add to the psychological wellbeing of employees. They help to balance out extreme emotions, improve levels of job satisfaction, reduce stress and so have a psychosomatic beneficial effect on levels of general health. The more green plants in a space, generally the more positive the effects. A recent in-house study at BMW proved beyond any doubt the beneficial effects. By scientifically measuring data related to issues such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, microbe activity and acoustics. For example, the study found that the atmospheric bacterial load in a well planted office was reduced by around 70 per cent. Similar measures of other toxins concluded that greenery can reduce the occurrence of formaldehyde, benzene, acetone along with other substances in the air. As well as having a positive effect on our health, green plants can also offer other commercial benefits. There are direct correlations of course, notably in how planting can improve health and increase motivation and so reduce absenteeism. A recent report from the Dutch Institute for Health and Disease Prevention reported that planting schemes can reduce the incidence of fatigue, headaches, coughing, dryness of the eyes and all the other manifestations of sick building syndrome by around 30 per cent.
The planting design firm Indoorlandscaping has reported on its own experiences including the remarkable claim that indoor greenery can even save on energy bills. By increasing the relative humidity of air in a room by around 5 per cent, the principle of passive evaporation can reduce the temperature of a room from 24 degrees to 22 degrees, maintaining a comfortable working environment and reducing energy bills by around 12 per cent. Indoorlandscaping position themselves in their marketing as an ‘agency for new green strategies’ and have worked on prestigious projects for the likes of Bank of America at their headquarters in North Carolina and in the creation of the astonishing hanging gardens installation for the Fünf Höfe shopping mall in Munich.

Office plants are helpful to save Money
As well as having a positive effect on our health, green plants can also offer other commercial benefits. There are direct correlations of course, notably in how planting can improve health and increase motivation and so reduce absenteeism. A recent report from the Dutch Institute for Health and Disease Prevention reported that planting schemes can reduce the incidence of fatigue, headaches, coughing, dryness of the eyes and all the other manifestations of sick building syndrome by around 30 per cent. The planting design firm Indoorlandscaping has reported on its own experiences including the remarkable claim that indoor greenery can even save on energy bills. By increasing the relative humidity of air in a room by around 5 per cent, the principle of passive evaporation can reduce the temperature of a room from 24 degrees to 22 degrees, maintaining a comfortable working environment and reducing energy bills
by around 12 per cent. Indoorlandscaping position themselves in their marketing as an „agency for new green strategies“ and have worked on prestigious projects for the likes of Bank of America at their headquarters in North Carolina and in the creation of the astonishing hanging gardens installation for the Fünf Höfe shopping mall in Munich.

Future Visions

Green cladding for buildings. The Singapore based architects WOHA have a vision of the future and it's one of vertical cities with buildings that find a symbiosis between the manmade and the natural. The plants help to cool and shade the building and improve oxygen levels in the city.

We are currently living in a situation where a lot of initiatives are no longer ours. I’ve written on Singapore and found that there, a city that we as Westerners can only see as mediocre, can also be interpreted as a city generated under the influence of Metabolist aesthetics. I was particularly interested in Metabolism because it represents the first time in which an avant-garde which isn’t ours is in charge of an aesthetic and an ideology.
Rem Koolhaas

Office plants can act as art
Who doesn’t enjoy the sight of plants and greenery? There is a very good reason for this of course because plants stimulate the same visceral response in us as they did our ancient ancestors, to whom they represented shelter, food and water. The French botanist Patrick Blanc was on to something when, inspired by a trip to Thailand in 1982, he introduced the first vertical garden to the wall of his house. Since then, his idea has been popularised across the world by many prominent architects and designers, including such luminaries as Herzog & de Meuron who created a 600 square metre wall opposite the Paseo del Prado in Madrid and Jean Nouvel who designed the vertical garden for Quai Branly Museum in Paris. The Italian company of Sundar Italia is one firm that is following closely in the footsteps of Patrick Blanc to become a specialist in vertical plant walls. One of its most prestigious projects is to befound at the new headquarters of fashion label Diesel near to lake Garda. The firm has also undertaken work at the new showroom for Sedus Italia. This greening of architecture finds its most stunning manifestation yet in the projects of the Singapore based architects WOHA. The most descriptive terms applied to their projects are rarely found in the traditional architectural lexicon and include hairy, furry and luxuriant. The two founders of the firm, Wong Mun Sum and Richard Hassell first conceived the idea of creating a building that shaded itself in some way rather than exposing its shimmering surfaces to the sun as so many contemporary buildings do. The work of WOHA is geared towards the creation of high rise dwellings in South East Asia. The firm is currently working on the 2014 opening of a 30 storey tower that will be covered with a lush vertical landscape over a pergola like structure. And it is this that is the most interesting aspect of the relationship between plants and architecture; how buildings are able to incorporate greenery but also allow it to grow back into the outdoors. Back to nature, so to speak. But to return to the office and the Sedus brand which has maintained a focus on sustainability and the wellbeing of people since the company was founded 140 years ago. Now with the concept of Place 2.5, Sedus has created a philosophy for the 21st Century.

Report by Michael Mayer