Owen Baker, Technical Officer (Policy and Research) for the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), discusses the importance of interior landscaping to a productive working environment.
What does interior landscaping mean to you?
An unnecessary expense, or a means of improving worker productivity?
Something that clutters the desk and creates a mess, or an inspiring, focal feature of an office?
Anyone nodding in agreement with the two negative opinions may be missing a trick. Academic research is increasingly supportive of the theory that interior landscaping has the potential to make offices (and restaurants, houses, schools, universities and public realm areas) more marketable, and staff more contented and productive.
Sounds too good to be true?
Scientific research has proved that well-executed interior planting can bring a variety of benefits to workers and the office environment. Even a superficial browse on Google will reveal a myriad of research, which suggests that interior landscaping delivers the following benefits:
Decreased stress (lower blood pressure)
More job satisfaction
Better perceived work-life balance
The range of health and well-being benefits seems unlikely, until one considers the reality of office life. Most offices are in urban areas, where outside air pollution – comprising nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, carbon dioxide and particulates – is consistently high. A significant volume of exterior pollutants enter buildings, and mix with office pollutants – commonly volatile organic compounds from items such as furniture, printers, air fresheners and paint – to create an unhealthy environment. Unsurprisingly, even small concentrations of these chemicals can have an effect and result in ailments (commonly grouped as sick building syndrome) familiar to most office workers: headaches, sore eyes, nose and throat, and nausea.
The benefit of interior plants is simple – they remove most types of air-borne pollutants via the natural process of photosynthesis, and help maintain office humidity via another natural process – transpiration. Plants also help to dissipate noise.
The use of formal planting schemes within commercial and public buildings started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there weren’t plants in the workplace or public buildings before then, merely that the concept of incorporating atriums into new buildings had not been widely promulgated until the frenzy of commercial construction began in earnest during that period. Architects and developers grasped the nettle and pushed interior building design forward by giving much greater importance to the aesthetics of the interior environment, which included offices, shopping malls, hospitals and airports. The result was much wider incorporation of interior landscaping at building design stage, greater use of containerised plants throughout office buildings and the burgeoning of an industry that could service clients who wanted the benefits of interior plants but none of the hassle.
The number of interior landscape solutions has grown significantly since this period, as suppliers have developed ingenious ways to display plants. Specimens may be stand-alone, wall hung, ceiling hung, in pots or planters. Interior planting solutions may also fulfil tasks that would otherwise be achieved by inanimate objects or signage: to hide or soften unsightly areas, break up large open spaces, personalise work areas, help with directing pedestrians to follow a certain route, and section-off areas by providing a green barrier. Many offices, hospitals, colleges, airport terminals and shopping malls now use plants for these purposes.
At the 2016 BALI National Landscape Awards, the Principal Award for Interior Landscape – Maintenance only, was won by BALI Registered Contractor Nurture Landscapes for an impressive interior planting scheme on the 6th floor of the iconic Gherkin building in central London – the offices of Swiss Re.
Comprising 60 troughs with 900 plants covering 30 different species, the installation, shown in the photograph below, is maintained fortnightly by the contractor, who employs different watering regimes appropriate to the species and their location within the office. This programme of care and the use of contemporary containers results in a scheme that uses healthy, dust-free plants to create an uplifting working environment. It is absolutely suited to the contemporary nature of the office and reflects both the ethos of Swiss Re and its concern for the wellbeing of its staff and clients.
In the image left, a large, 25m2 living wall has been constructed in the reception area of a pharmaceutical company by Inleaf, an office plant and living wall specialist. The installation, which overcame challenges including limited access, lighting and a curved wall, was completed using a Mobilane LivePanel system. All maintenance issues are carried out by Inleaf.
On a much smaller scale, the photograph right shows a Mobilane LivePanel installed in a London restaurant by consultants Urban Roof Gardens. The installation, which has become a talking point amongst guests, needs no water or electrical connection. The unit features exchangeable plant cassettes, complete with integrated watering system, to give a splash of green on a previously bare wall.
Whilst there is a synergy between exterior and interior landscaping, most interior landscapers work with approximately 20 plant specimens, very few of which will be used by exterior landscapers. The size and variety of specimens varies hugely, depending on availability of space, and budget. Due to the ingenuity of suppliers and developments in technology, environmental factors such as water, nutrients, light and humidity can be tailored to suit an installation. Similarly, the specification for the design, installation and maintenance of interior landscape projects can be tailored to budgets and locations. Most interior landscape providers offer a complete maintenance service, which includes watering, cleaning, pruning and replacing dead plants.
Despite the opportunities available, a lack of investment in interior landscaping is predictable. In an age where costs are constantly scrutinised, many may consider anything more than a sickly pot plant on the windowsill of an office to be a waste of money. However, the forward-thinking manager, who considers the wider benefits of interior landscaping, may regard it as an essential way of retaining staff by providing a healthy and pleasant working environment, with the bonus of enhancing the image of the company with customers.
BALI has a number of member companies with the skills and expertise to design, install and maintain interior landscapes. For details of professional interior landscapers in your region contact BALI on 0870 779 4971, email email@example.com or visit bali.org.uk.