Story at a glance:

  • Biophilic design includes everything from outdoor views and plants to actual access to nature.
  • More architects and designers are learning the benefits of including acoustics in their initial designs.
  • Natural building materials are in increased demand, with areas like siding and insulation expected to grow.

Work from home is here to stay. At least, if a 2022 article from Forbes has it right.

Sharing data from Ladders, Forbes reported that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023.

As more people work from home and companies search for enticing hybrid office design, we wonder what sustainable office design ideas are compelling enough to get people to go physically into an office these days. Some architects and manufacturers are thinking big—from Amazon’s massive forthcoming East Coast headquarters to hypothetical proposals for the ideal office from Gensler.

These are just some of the sustainable office design ideas we’re hearing about again and again.

Biophilic Design

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Photo courtesy of Bell Works

People are thinking about their interior spaces differently, and biophilic design is no longer a luxury for most; it’s a must. A recent Ambius survey of 3,000 North American adults showed 93% of Americans want companies to invest more in healthy indoor environments.

“Business operators may find it surprising that more survey respondents (51%), consider access to natural light and outdoor views more important than flexible or hybrid working environments (41%) for future working spaces,” said Kelly Walowski in a previous article for gb&dPRO. “These results support the increasing amount of research that shows time spent in nature has a range of positive benefits for individuals, including lowering stress levels, decreasing anxiety, improving attention and productivity, promoting cognitive development and sharpness, and increasing overall happiness.”

Walowski suggests business owners and designers look to things like potted plants and living green walls as easy ways to incorporate green and natural elements in offices. “Typically plants that do not require a lot of sunlight, grow slowly, have broad green leaves, and can survive in very low light conditions serve best as indoor plants,” she said. “The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Plants is a great resource for designers tasked with identifying the best plants to incorporate into an indoor space.”

Outdoor Green Space

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Gensler’s Morphable Office concept builds out a hypothetical office building in Baltimore to emphasize nature. Image courtesy of Gensler

Actually being outdoors is also in high demand across the US. As part of its Morphable Office concept, Gensler is challenging architects to design for more outdoor space that’s highly usable—beyond just balconies or patios. In this proposal they’re pushing the boundaries of mechanical systems to make sure outdoor space is highly functional, with heaters, pulldown screens, fans, and radiant heating and cooling.

“Those are the kinds of things that make this outdoor space much more usable, so you can actually work outside as opposed to just having a patio where you go to have a conversation,” said Darrel Fullbright, principal and design director for Gensler San Diego, in a previous interview for gb&d.

In Gensler’s Morphable Office, no matter what floor you’re on, you can step outside onto a garden terrace. “We’re starting to find that the ground floor—where you can better connect to the outdoors—is really a better, more desirable space,” he said. “A lot of these tech companies are wanting to have that biophilia and that fresh air and wellness feature.”



Audition acoustical wood panels and planks feature a wood veneer face and are available for ceiling and wall systems. Photo courtesy of ASI Architectural

Sound is another important consideration that more design teams are beginning to account for earlier in projects. According to ASI Architectural, 70% of global employees say office noise hurts them during the workday.

ASI recently helped one company who was having a hard time even meeting in their conference room. Though elegant, its glass walls and terrazzo floor made it difficult to hear.

“From the acoustics side they felt like they were in a fishbowl,” said Chris Blanchard, national sales manager for ASI Architectural, in a previous feature for gb&d. “The original design had one traditional wall assembly with drywall and three glass walls with a glass door. We ended up covering the gyp board wall and the ceiling with an acoustical wood product. It helped from the acoustic side but also from the design side. We couldn’t eliminate the glass wall structurally, but it warmed up the space so it didn’t feel like they were in this white, clinical fishbowl atmosphere. They had the warmth of the wood as well as the acoustical performance that went with it.”

Whether in a conference room, open office, huddle room, or private pod, sound is a critical part of design, Blanchard said. “You know that space is always going to be full of people, and they’re always going to be talking. You’re always going to have echo and reverberation.”

Absorbing the echo in a room is relatively easy and straightforward—it just needs to be designed for from the very beginning. “It’s tricky once it’s built and being used, but that’s what we are here for,” Blanchard said. “We solve your noise problems.”

Natural Materials

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Rancho Los Amigos. Photo by Ric Berryman

The global sustainable building materials market is expected to grow to $425 billion by 2027, according to GlobeNewswire.

The report projected that insulation would record a 4.6% CAGR and reach US$71.1 billion by the end of the analysis period. Exterior siding also indicated massive growth.

One contemporary three-bedroom house recently designed by LG Squared uses continuous stone wool insulation to keep the home a comfortable temperature while keeping energy demand low, but you could just easily use Rockwool in office buildings.

The siding industry continues to evolve, from diverse options for homes to energy-efficient siding on commercial projects.

Programmable Lighting

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Biohaven Pharmaceuticals project. Photo by Halkin Mason Photography

Lighting control is ever-important as the days of teams in cubicles from 9 to 5 are behind us.

“We used a programmable lighting system to control lighting during specific core business hours as well as occupancy sensors throughout,” said Katherine Berger, associate and director of interior design with Svigals + Partners, in a previous article for gb&d.

Berger said designing for sustainability was core to their firm’s recent Biohaven Pharmaceuticals project, and lighting was a big part of that.

“The team utilized lighting calculations to ensure all workspaces have at least 20fc (footcandles) at the work surface and provided window shade systems and dimming switches that can be controlled by users to reduce glare and provide desired light levels,” Berger said.

Lighting is evolving at a rapid pace, too. “Intelligent programming in harmony with our natural circadian rhythms is bringing us closer in balance with our natural sleeping and waking cycles in an otherwise detached tech-centric world,” wrote Tivoli’s Robert Pullman for gb&dPRO. “LED does a magnificent job of creating bluer “daylight” and warmer “evening” light, each suppressing or stimulating the production of melatonin, allowing for intentional application to achieve the desired biological outcome.”

He said that, beyond the obvious and dramatic savings regarding power consumption, LEDs working in conjunction with light level and motion sensing, or occupancy technology, are allowing for intelligent application in every imaginable environment.

“These technologies react by adjusting light levels, consciously accounting for ambient light in a specific area occupied by turning on/off or dimming. This not only saves money but reduces our carbon footprint and decreases our burden on the planet.”

Sliding Glass Doors

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Sliding glass doors and wood panels from KLEIN’s NATURE system. Photo courtesy of Klein USA

Studies show that we’re at our most creative when we are outside, moving and mildly distracted by a physical activity. Gensler’s Morphable Office concept also designs an office with a facade made almost entirely of sliding glass doors.

“We’ve been doing a lot of multi-slide doors, where there might be four or five operable panels. The idea is that you would make almost the entire facade that way so you could open the facade in all kinds of different ways,” Fullbright told gb&d.

Sliding doors from KLEIN combine form and function for today’s most modern offices.

“In a well-designed space, we don’t really notice the subtle details that make us feel good. We just know that the environment makes us feel happy, and that we are motivated to do our work,” KLEIN Managing Director for the Americas Lluís Ferrer previously told gb&d.

Sliding glass doors and wood panels from KLEIN’s NATURE system make a big impact in today’s changing workplace design, too. NATURE, made with oak wood to give a feeling of warmth, provides additional well-being to workers. Say an office wants to host a large networking event or enhance inter/intra-departmental communication. Simply roll open KLEIN’s telescopic Extendo line of sliding glass doors, and in seconds there’s plenty of room to roam, connect, and collaborate. On the other hand, if the goal is to section off smaller areas for private meetings, video conferencing, or individual work that requires more concentration, Rollglass+ has it covered. Interior wood partitions and movable walls have the same effect.

Find more sustainable office design ideas here.