How green office design builds a bridge between our indoor and outdoor lives


  • Being outdoors is essential for our mental and physical health, yet we spend around 90% of our time indoors.
  • Eco-friendly design can help bring more balance into our daily lives by blending the indoors with the outdoors.
  • Cushing Terrell’s Dayton Rush shares two tactics for thinking green and transforming the indoor work environment.

In discussions with clients, our team frequently receives requests for improvements that will impact worker well-being, increase opportunities for collaboration, and provide greater flexibility (particularly around work patterns hybrids). Much like city-level communities, these clients seek to optimize their spaces for their community, workforce, which means allowing movement, easily and freely, to find a location that best suits groups and to individuals for the task at hand, and to create a sense of comfort, intrigue, and inspiration. And as most planners will tell you, the solution often lies in thinking holistically about the ecology of an environment.

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Outdoor spaces function as a way to cool off, unplug and recharge. A result that what we might call a traditional or typical desktop environment is not set up to achieve. Instead, typical desks are set up for financial/overall savings and serve a limited number of pre-determined uses. So how do we apply green design to harness the power of outdoor spaces and the vital benefits they offer and bring them indoors? Here are two tactics for thinking green indoors:

One way to incorporate natural features into an interior space is to intentionally use architectural elements to frame the surrounding natural environments. Photo credit: Marco Zecchin

1. Recognize ecotones

As part of the design process, we identify and emphasize movement, modes and moments in a space. The method of establishing and visualizing these characteristics is known as vibe mapping. Similar to a heat map, a mood map documents usage patterns in a space – to model the activity and energy associated with various states of being in the workplace.

How does green design come into play with movements, fashions and mood maps in the workplace?

“Modes”, as we define them, are best suited to environments with particular attributes. It is therefore essential to understand how to plan and design spaces conducive to everyone, but also to understand how these spaces interact with each other. The vibration map makes it possible to identify these intermediate zones.

The concept refers directly to ecotones, the transition zone between two different ecosystems. These areas happen to be particularly rich and uniquely diverse. We can learn from the benefits of this biodiversity by planning spaces that allow for the mixing of uses or purposes while recognizing the need for a wide variety of environments and conditions.

By applying ecotone traits and characteristics to interior spaces, it becomes possible to create buffers between areas of activity and areas intended (and needed) for quiet, focused time, while enabling rich and varied chance interactions. ; the hallmark of a collaborative workspace.

Sometimes simply harnessing the view outside can be almost as beneficial as bringing natural elements indoors.  Photo credit: Aaron Limoges
Sometimes simply harnessing the view outside can be almost as beneficial as bringing natural elements indoors. Photo credit: Aaron Limoges

2. Frame views

This tactic could fit into the “moments” position of the ecotone equation mentioned above. Framing a view is what it sounds like: drawing attention to a particular view from a particular vantage point. And it works as an example of creating a moment that defines and/or enhances an interior space. When a view is framed, it captures a specific feature of the environment it contains and subtly asks viewers to think about what is captured in the frame in a certain way.

In the context of green design, one way to incorporate natural features into an interior space is to frame a surrounding natural environment – think of a window at the end of a hallway that overlooks the bay, or a forest scene visible from through the clerestory windows into a small conference room.

Framed views or view corridors, as the driving force of interior space layout, can take advantage of the benefits of the outdoors without even having to leave your desk. This tactic can be particularly effective in regions or areas where access to the outside is spatially or climatically limited. In these cases, even artistic or natural references contained in a frame or framed by architectural elements will have a similar beneficial effect. Sometimes simply harnessing the view outside can be almost as beneficial as bringing natural elements indoors.

Ultimately, the natural environment affects and is affected by everything we do. This is reason enough to imagine a working environment where the boundary between interior design and natural outdoor environments is less defined and more fluid. Bringing the outdoors in through green design galvanizes a stronger work ecosystem, in which the space nurtures – or should we say fertilizes? — collaboration, inspiration and general well-being.

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