Bringing the outside inside: taking a multi-sensory approach to design that cues the calm of a natural environment

Built environments often suffer the dreariness of being designed for functional purpose instead of comfort. Brutalist architecture born from excitement in the 1950s for industrialized processes and behaviours has had a legacy far larger than it is due.

Of course, architectural movements in the 60s and 70s contrasted harsh materials with natural elements to enable environments that feel more comfortable and today we can take this even further.

Plants thriving on shelves at the StartWell reception/cafe immediately take energy levels down when people enter the building. Small potted plants are also used throughout campus to bring a natural experience to meetings at tables.

The first step in naturalizing an interior workplace is to literally bring nature into the office – but you shouldn’t be too quick to furnish plants just for the sake of it. Each varietal requires its own environmental considerations – from light sources to heat levels to ambient moisture and so on… so when planning to bring plants into a room you have to take a larger contextual approach.

In addition to planning for naturally aesthetic elements, you must also consider light – combining interior lighting with natural/exterior light to create a balanced atmosphere indoors. Of course, there is also a lot of potentiality in understanding that your spaces may be used around the clock. ‘Night mode’ in buildings shouldn’t scare people away from inhabiting them – instead, the opposite should be achieved and the transition from day to night should feel natural and seamless to people in the workplace.

Natural afternoon light streams into the reception/cafe at StartWell.

The sound track to most workplaces is a mixture of speaking, movement/footsteps, machines and so on… which can actually promote anxiety and push people subconsciously towards private spaces. Considering this, its worth taking time to understand how to soundtrack an environment without making the soundtrack feel gimmicky or obvious. Knowing who the people are that use a space and what sets them at ease can inform this process and we recommend merging music with audio recordings from nature.

Where the sounds of streetscapes and machines are most disruptive, a counter-balance can be achieved with natural soundtracks being played back with hidden speakers that throw sound around (you don’t want people to pinpoint the audio source, adding to its mystical allure.) This type of sound can also mask noises in bathrooms – relaxing people by offering auditory camouflage.

When programming music its worth thinking about what music is played at what time – at StartWell for example, we maintain a private cloud-based radio station which can be programmed on the fly remotely. Our library of music is ever-growing and can be programmed to make Monday mornings more calming, Thursday afternoons more social and so on. With a cloud based system that plays through a Chrome browser, you can add to your sound system throughout a property by simply setting up a chromebook and speakers wherever you need music – making the experience of music throughout a location more uniform and natural and using it to stitch together the brand experience of an entire interior that transcends single spaces.

Of course, you can also play different types of music in different areas – to give people a sense of privacy or social atmosphere.