10 May 2023

Scion Grows Workplace Wellbeing through Biophilic Office Design

Scion is a Crown Rresearch Iinstitute that specialises research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product, wood-derived materials, and other biomaterial sectors. Scion’s head office is Based in Rotorua’s Te Papa Tipu Innovation Park, a 112 hectare area shared with other forestry-associated organisations, on the edge of the city’s Whakarewarewa redwoods forest. With a new office refit on the horizon it was no surprise that Scion landed on a biophilic design.

Humans’ relationship with the natural environment can be understood through the concept of biophilia, which recognises the innate human affinity (or inborn 'love, awe and respect') for nature. Evidence shows how exposure to nature is good for health, wellbeing and happiness. “Biophilic design is design that connects people to nature,” says Dr Neil de Wet, Medical Officer of Health at Toi Te Ora Public Health. “This could be by simply using natural light and ventilation, bringing plants indoors increasing the visual connection to the outdoors, through to using natural materials and natural patterns and forms.”

Staff engagement was high on the agenda when Scion set out to refit their office. Before the design phase, Aoife Mac Sheery, Scion’s Campus Redevelopment Project Manager says they undertook a utilisation study to understand how workspaces were used. “Then we did a mass engagement process with staff about what they wanted to see in their future workspaces. Our people are scientists, so they did a lot of research and gave us lots of feedback. Many of the suggestions involved biophilic design because they really wanted to embrace the environment, to bring the outdoors in, both because it’s good for people and because it fits the work done here.”
Scion has certainly achieved what they set out to do. The building makeover sees plants proliferate among various timber features, with soft furnishings chosen in shades of green and brown, reflecting the colours surrounding the forest.

While reflecting and replicating the forest in the workplace is clearly in-keeping with Scion’s research focus, Aoife says it’s also very much about wellbeing. “Scion has strong principles around staff health and wellbeing. Given our unique location nestled amongst the Redwoods, we encourage everyone to embrace the outdoors – be it going for a mountain bike ride or a walk at lunch, or ‘de-stressing’ by taking their dog for an afternoon stroll across campus.”

And that, says Dr de Wet, is another biophilic benefit. “While it increases our sense of wellbeing at work, increases productivity and creativity, and reduces absenteeism, it also celebrates and respects nature.”

Scion believes they have reaped the benefits of bringing the outdoors indoors. “Now that we have bright, open, welcoming spaces, people have come out from their shells and back into the office. They’re talking to each other more; engaging more. The change has been massive.”

Biophila not only looks at how to enhance human health and wellbeing but also how it enhances the health and wellbeing of nature. Beyond the immediate benefits for workers and employers, biophilic design is gaining importance because it’s about valuing nature.

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