‘Biophilia’ aka ‘green space’, has been a buzzword in the office design sphere over the last few years. However, the provision of ‘blue space’ – meaning a water feature such as lakes, oceans or rivers – is also proven to boost productivity and mental wellbeing in the workplace, and has recently started to move closer to the forefront of designers’ and occupiers’ minds. In fact, according to a study from the Barcelona Institute of Global Health, blue spaces have been shown to be more effective at reducing stress than green spaces, like forests and parks.
Workspaces close to rivers, docks, canals and oceans can make employees feel like they are more creative, according to a study of more than 2,000 workers by Glasgow Caledonian University. One-third of the employees polled said that working near a river made them more productive. The research concluded that water adds to the working environment in a positive way, and that just being by water is both relaxing and stimulating, with employees who could see water outside their window feeling less confined by their workplace.
Blue is often associated with the intellect and is associated with increased brain activity and creativity. While studies associate rising blood pressure with the colour red, blue light was found to have the potential to lower blood pressure. Certainly, it is a soothing, calming colour, encouraging reflection – Pantone chose Classic Blue as their shade for 2020, saying that it instills “calm, confidence and connection”. Even within the blue shade range, strong blues help stimulate clear thought, and lighter, softer blues can help calm the mind and aid concentration.
Office developments that are taking advantage of their naturally blue setting include Assembly in Bristol, which sits right on the waterside. For those that aren’t so lucky with their location, water features located outside but within visibility of those inside the office, have been popular for years, and their prevalence seem to be on the up. Examples abound, including those at Granary Square in London’s King’s Cross and in the South Plaza of the former Olympic Park. More recently, Colmore Square Piazza in Birmingham has installed an impressive water feature to benefit the employees working over the Snowhill Estate.
Since not everyone in the workplace can have a view of natural, or indeed artificial, water features outside, designers are increasingly bringing water-inspired elements inside. At its most basic, just having the walls painted a shade of blue has been found to be of benefit, but water features such as fountains, water walls and fish tanks are being increasingly designed and installed in interior spaces to create a calming environment. Sounds of softly trickling water have replaced background music in some commercial spaces in order to promote relaxation. Any water is better than none, presenting opportunities for blue space to be designed into a new development or retrofitted into an older one. You can’t change where the coast or a river is, but translating the benefits to other types of environments is doable.
A great example is the fish tank on the sixth floor of Bloomberg’s prestigious new London HQ building, awarded the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture in 2018. Previously a talking point as it greeted visitors at the entrance of its old building in Finsbury Square, the Bloomberg team insisted that the feature be incorporated into its new HQ, and it is believed that founder and owner Michael Bloomberg attaches great value to the staff benefits of blue space, with fish tanks featured in each of the company’s offices.
Other examples of blue features within office buildings include 60 Spring Gardens in Manchester, which uses an indoor water feature to enhance the atmosphere and mood of the building and is a nod to the original spring of Spring Gardens, which the building sits on.
Even at Savills new office in Leeds we’re incorporating the blue theme, although we’re starting simply with the colour blue adorning the walls. Will we see it increasing our staff wellbeing and productivity? I certainly hope so; this should be a case of the ‘office blues’ that we can all embrace.
Move over green space – feeling ‘blue’ in the office no longer has to be a negative, says Clare Bailey, associate director in Savills commercial research team