Studying the Therapeutic Impact of Aquariums & Biophilic Design in the Office 26th March 2020 | IN DESIGN ADVICE | BY SBID

Tackling Stress in the Workplace

Taking into account that the average employee spends 3,515 full days in the office in their lifetime – not to mention an additional 188 days of overtime – it’s no wonder that top firms are reviewing the ways that their headquarters feel, function and flow. Now Midlands-based aquarium design company and SBID Accredited Industry Partner, ViDERE, has developed a remedy in the form of interacting with fish-tanks and it hopes the discovery will help more employees keep their heads above water.

Poor mental and physical health diminishes an employee’s ability to function and perform well at work and can also negatively impact their wider social community. It is also common knowledge, through both research and anecdotal evidence that humans experience physiological, emotional and cognitive benefits from interacting with nature (Ulrich, 1984; van den Berg et al, 2003). Thus, the correlation between connections with nature and improved wellbeing has led to a cultural shift in the way we design buildings and public spaces.

Biophilic design in the workplace with office based aquarium by ViDERE

Nature as a key design element

This cultural shift has been a driving force behind occupational psychologists and designers taking a holistic approach in incorporating different elements of nature into the structure, furnishings and operational activities of businesses and corporations. The approach of ‘Human Centred Design’ encapsulates a multitude of disciplines and expertise, to enable companies to positively shape the working environment of their employees both physically and culturally.

One important component of this approach is the introduction of nature as a key design element to create greater appeal and improve wellbeing. Research has shown that on average, humans instinctively prefer to be surrounded by elements of nature (Ulrich, R. S., 1981). Our perception of what is ‘beautiful’ is greatly skewed towards landscapes, and areas that are rich in biodiversity (Dennis Dutton, 2009). The extensive body of research in this subject area has made the integration of nature as a corner stone in the approach of design that improves the human experience.

At a time when workplace stress is on the rise, with recent research showing that it costs UK employers over £43bn a year, ViDERE dove deeply into researching the effect that interacting with aquariums has upon key stress indicators. This study was carried out during the summer and autumn of 2019 and specifically, looked at the impact of spending time looking into an aquarium and how this affected the stress and anxiety levels of employees working in a web development agency, Lightbox Digital, who are based in Birmingham.

Study of biophilic design in the workplace with office based aquarium by ViDERE
aquariums, Studying the Therapeutic Impact of Aquariums & Biophilic Design in the Office

Studying the therapeutic impact of aquariums

Individuals working in the digital marketing sector often experience prolonged periods of workplace anxiety and stress, partly due to heavy workloads and extended periods in front of a screen. Therefore, the focal point of the study was collecting data on each employees’ heart rate and blood pressure before and after each individual looked into their office fish-tank for ten minutes and looking at how this data varied.

Overall, the results across the board show that looking into the office’s planted aquarium for 10 minutes led to an average drop in blood pressure by 15.6% and an average drop in heart rate by 3%, reinforcing ViDERE’s initial theory that fish-tanks have a positive effect on mental wellbeing in the workplace. It’s also notable that all but two participants’ blood pressure fell into the NHS’s recommended blood pressure range for a healthy adult of between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, after the 10-minute therapy.

The correlation between lower stress levels and biophilic design elements highlighted by the study is a factor that more businesses should consider as they expand both their teams and workspaces. From this pilot study, we can draw some preliminary conclusions and inferences about the potential benefits associated with having an aquarium in a business interior for the staff and management teams that work there. The findings from this study also suggest that an aquarium not only has a positive impact on the appeal of a space with its high biophilic value, but can be used as a therapy for stress recovery. Thus, the more businesses invest in their office infrastructure and multi-functional design features, ultimately, the more they will improve their employees’ well-being within their workplace; which in turn, enhances productivity.

What does this mean for employers?

Discussing the results, ViDERE founder and pioneer of the study, Akil Beckford, commented: “The research into biophilia and the impact that the natural world has on our human emotions has risen in recent years and has shown staggering results. While our own study was on a small scale, the universal impact that it had on our individual test subjects is testament to the impact that simple changes can make to the bigger picture for businesses. All companies are made up of teams of people, and if they are feeling better, the business performs better… it’s simple!”

“The world seems to be constantly pushing high-tech boundaries and striving for smarter homes, offices, and community areas; but we are in danger of losing touch with nature, with potentially catastrophic results on our own health and wellbeing. Of course, we aren’t saying that technology is bad – quite the opposite in fact! – but it does serve as a warning that if we don’t start thinking about the way that the two can co-exist symbiotically, and designing our spaces to reflect that, then our wellbeing may well suffer.”

Akil and his team at ViDERE intend to continue educating people in the business community about how they can better facilitate wellbeing at work. Having already worked with the likes of Interface, Poggenpohl, and Clements and Church, seeing first-hand the impact that aquariums have had, Akil is confident that he can continue to lead the way as an advocate for biophilia in the Midlands.

Click here to read the full report.

About the Author

Akil Beckford is an aquarist and designer who is passionate about connecting people to nature. For over 15 years, Akil has been designing and installing aquariums into peoples homes and business’s, creating globally recognised designs and displays.

This article was written by Akil Gordon-Beckford, Founder & Director of ViDERE Aquariums

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