The Biophilic office, BRE: the manufacturers view


The Lighting Approach for the Biophilic Office.


Waldmann was approached by the BRE to be a core partner for the Biophilic Office research project, based on the extensive knowledge and experience the company has in the field of biodynamic lighting.

While biophilic design has only fairly recently become part of a bigger conversation, the terminology and ideas surrounding it have been known for a long time. Many of the biodynamic lighting installations that Waldmann has been a part of for the last 15 years or so have had an element of biophilic design. The two concepts fit very well together; biophilia means, literally, a love of nature; and biodynamic describes the study of biological dynamics. The expected outcome of both is the same; enhanced wellbeing.

The project team, researchers at the BRE and Oliver Heath Design, decided that the most useful aspect of the project would be to research different levels of wellbeing improvement; from a minimal entry-level through to an all-in approach to biophilic design, created across three different zones of the project. The core question being asked is, what is the minimum biophilic intervention to an existing office (without refurbishment) that reaps a level of wellbeing reward, versus how much wellbeing can be achieved by implementing a full biophilic design to an office, either as a new build or total refurbishment?

The zones are named as follows: the entry level is called the “Fromm Zone”, the all-in design is in an area called the “Wilson Zone”, and sandwiched in the middle is the “Kellert Zone”, where we investigate what a client might do if they are carrying a conventional refurbishment but want to add biophilic elements into that process. There is also a fourth zone called the “Collaboration Zone”, which is where people can hold informal meetings, have their lunch and so on. There are no desks or other fixed workplaces in this area and its indicative of a new style of workspace.

In line with the project’s focus we decided to look at the lighting from different viewpoints as well. In the entry level zone we will only use 4000K as the colour temperature, with no biodynamic features. The lighting, once the newly furnished space is open, will be existing best-practice in all other respects; light levels, glare, visual interest, and so on. The assumption of this zone is that someone who is adding entry-level biophilic elements to their existing office (without refurbishment) will probably not be replacing their lighting, but if they do they may consider lighting which requires little to no invasive installation works.

The Fromm Zone

Waldmann: direct-indirect soluition

The entry-level zone has a traditional open-plan layout for most of its area with a few cellular offices and meeting rooms at the sides. In a traditionally lit space this would be either be a conventional grid of 600mm x 600mm ceiling based luminaires or, perhaps, some suspended direct/indirect luminaires.

We are designing this zone around a small number of direct/indirect pendants and free-standing office luminaires; common in Europe, but less well-known in the UK. One of the advantages from a client’s perspective is that the free-standing luminaires do not involve a fixed installation. – just plug-and-play. Another feature is that they are designed to meet the relevant EN 12464 (or LG7) guidelines straight away, with little required by way of calculations, etc. By correct placement in relation to the user’s desk they provide sufficient light to the working area and immediate surroundings, while being a remarkably low UGR10. The indirect part of the light provides a pleasant distribution of light with soft shadowing and works very well in relation to the biophilic elements of the design.

An added benefit to an office space of lighting in this way is that there is little chance of over-lighting. The lights are only where you need them, not covering the whole ceiling. Each individual unit has it’s own intelligent control system which utilises configurable presence detection and daylight harvesting to minimise the energy use even further. Overall, a space lit this way can expect to use approximately half the electricity of even the most energy efficient ceiling-based lighting scheme.

The Kellert Zone

The Kellert Zone, representing the mid-range position, takes a similar approach to the Fromm Zone, but with the added benefit of biodynamic technology. In most lighting installations the additional cost of adding biodynamic technology and control is only 10% to 20% more than the same luminaires in static white. This represents a sensible upgrade in specification and cost for a client who is doing a refurbishment but does not have the budget (or willingness/confidence) to go too far along the biophilic design route.

In this zone we also have an enclosed pod which can be used for meetings or as a personal relaxation space. The lighting in here will be a pendant with biodynamic technology; this achieves the guideline requirements of a workspace but looks much more homely and less commercial than other office pendant luminaires. It was originally designed for use in care homes so as a product design concept, this was kept in mind from the outset.

The Wilson Zone

To research the best-practice end of the spectrum, the Wilson Zone has an all-in approach. For a client planning a full refurbishment, and with a budget to suit, how much benefit can be generated for the occupants through a no-holds-barred biophilic design concept? Will it become possible to define an ROI for biophilic design?

In this zone we have biodynamic lighting, mostly from free-standing luminaires. Working in tandem with our lighting is one of the incredibly clever Coelux skylights. While Waldmann lighting equipment is used in the workplace areas and in one of the quiet meeting zones the Coelux skylight is above a central meeting area, surrounded by biophilic interventions that give the impression of being in a forest. Overall, the effect of working in this space should be one that is the closest to nature. Regardless of which direction you look there are natural elements and naturally-themed elements for the visual wellbeing of the occupants.

Throughout all zones, one thing that is common is a broader wellbeing outcome for the occupants. For example, Waldmann’s Cradle-To-Cradle luminaires are suitably certified for limiting out-gassing. Out-gassing is akin to that “new car smell”. What you are smelling is adhesives and chemicals. It’s not a good thing! Equally, there are out-gassing problems without detectable smell as well. Museums have specific requirements for this with regards the materials they use in display cabinets of delicate objects. Did you know MDF out-gasses formaldehyde? While formaldehyde does have a distinct smell, in low concentrations we can’t smell it, but those low concentrations can still be dangerous in a sealed environment.

Luminaires, especially for office use, are never subjected to this type of testing, but it is an important criteria of Cradle-To-Cradle certification. If you can be certain your luminaires are not out-gassing unwanted VOCs (volatile organic compounds) you have a better chance of having low VOC concentrations in the air in the office. Reductions of VOCs is a very important aspect of biophilic design; the chemical make-up of the luminaire becomes equally as important as its light output. By designing products to be indirectly good for the planet, we also make them directly good for humanity.

Biodynamic lighting

From the biodynamic lighting point of view it is important to remember that lay-people do not know enough about the effects of the light to be trusted with control over that light. Therefore, we consider it very important that the algorithm controlling the colour temperature should be locked outside of user control. In an ideal world, the intensity of the light should also be locked outside of their control, but we have to understand that people have different needs in illuminance levels (older eyes need more light, for example) and therefore it is a good idea to allow some control over the intensity on an individual level. This, again, is where the free-standing luminaires have an advantage over other forms of lighting. They do allow an individual to have some measure of control.

Sketch image of biophilic office from Oliver Heath Design


The Biophilic Office: Wellness and Biophilia Symposium takes place on 6-7 June 2019 at BRE, Watford. Book your place (and enjoy a 20% discount with The Light Review – click on logo here)

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