People are essential to biophilic design says Interface designer, David Oakey

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Designer David Oakey explains how people have become the focus of biophilic design.

Interface has recently launched DesignLab, a series of design workshops for designers and architects to expand their knowledge of biophilic design.

The first workshop was held at The Green Planet, the Middle East’s first bio-dome, complete with a biodiversity of more than 3,000 plants and animals, in the spirit of a rainforest.

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Since 2014, Interface has been studying biophilic design, working with organisational psychologist professor Sir Cary Cooper to determine the effect of biophilic design on workspaces. Results showed that natural design increases workers’ well-being by 15%, productivity by 6%, and creativity by 15%.

Commercial Interior Design was given exclusive access to attend the manufacturer’s first workshop which taught the attending designers and architects the various ways of brining nature into the workspace, focusing on principles of biomimicry and biophilic design.

David Oakey, the designer behind Interface’s recent collections and biophilia expert, was guest speaker at the event.

David Oakey.

Oakey spoke to CID, stressing on the importance of nature-driven design for the Middle East, especially when building tall structures.

“If you are going to build up, you are going to have to design spaces that are rooted in nature,” Oakey explained, adding that biomimicry has been used as a tool for countless tall towers in the region. It is similar to biophilia, but differs in the fact that it mimics nature rather than adopting it.

He also agrees that there seems to be a misconception in the idea of biophilic design in the region.

“I think the best way to understand it is by breaking the word down: ‘bio’ means nature and ‘philia’ means feel. Natural feel. So, when you look at a piece of furniture, a carpet or an overall interior, does it feel natural? You don’t necessarily have to bring in flowers and plants, you can simply bring in natural materials such as natural unfinished woods, linen and cotton- that is biophilic design.”

He added that the acceptance of change is something people need to accept within their spaces to create true biophilic spaces. He cited nature as flexible and fluid and people as uniform and constant, qualities that defy nature.

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“Indoors, whether we are at our homes, or cars or offices, we want it to stay the same. We even ask the question, ‘will it look like this for 20 years?’ and I am starting to think that this is a mistake. Change is good for people,” said Oakey.

He added that his study on biophilic design is showing that technology is starting to address these nuances of change in buildings and interiors, and that this will be further explored in the future through elements such as changes in temperature and lighting.

Comfort is another focus on Oakey’s current study, a feeling that he says is the key to a successful workspace, and one that ties in perfectly with the concept of biophilic design.

He used the example of a hip neighbourhood coffee shop that consists of all the elements of comfort, from seating to food, drink and light.

“How can we take these elements of comfort and bring them inside?” he questions. “It’s not wild nature and it’s not a confined office with rows and rows of desks. The ultimate question here is how do we make a workspace that feels more like a hip neighbourhood?”

He argues that “the shift has moved away from an architect or interior designer designing a space with beautiful colours and furniture that then gets photographed and put in a magazine. They have forgotten one thing: the people. The people are most important now. They are the most expensive part of each building.”

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He explained that a global trend in designing workspaces is creating places where young and bright minds feel comfortable and prosperous. If spaces are uninspiring, companies will not be able to retain those people.

“This concept is developing pretty fast because is everyone wants to focus on attracting and retaining talent. They better have spaces that people want to go because millennials just move on.”

He explained that the DesignLab is an important initiative for design practices to grasp the principles of biophilia in their work and that these principles will in turn add value to their workspaces and projects.

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