use plants in buildings?
landscaping has become increasingly popular during the
last 30 years. Most architects now include plants in
their design specification for new shopping centres,
office complexes and other public areas, and they are
something we all expect to see when we walk through
the door. But what is it about plants that makes them
such an important building accessory?
most obvious answer is that they look attractive –
who can fail to be charmed by the graceful arch of palm
leaves or the exotic beauty of orchids? However, recent
research has shown that the value of plants goes far
beyond the purely aesthetic. Plants are actually good
for the building and its occupants in a number of subtle
ways and are an important element in providing a pleasant,
tranquil environment where people can work or relax.
key uses and benefits of plants are summarised below.
For more detailed information follow the links in the
text and/or select a subject from the menu on the right-hand
side of this page.
to reduce sickness absence.
Absence from work cost British business £11.8
billion in 2002. Job dissatisfaction and low morale
can be prominent factors in short-term absence and could
account for as much as 15% of all reported sickness
absence. Employers can tackle this most easily by re-examining
people management policies and the working environment,
to see what can be done to improve staff productivity
and well being. If companies with the worst absence
rates could meet average levels, the UK economy would
be £1.9 billion better off. (Ref: “In sickness
and in health”, Business Voice, June 2003, p11.)
The humble plant may be part of the solution. There
is now a wealth of evidence to show that putting plants
in buildings can significantly reduce absence from work.
It isn’t necessary to fill every available space
with a plant to achieve this; just a few good-quality
specimens located near to where people work and take
their rest breaks seem to suffice. The reasons why this
has a beneficial effect are probably a subtle but complex
mixture of the physiological (improved humidity, reduced
noise etc.) and psychological. Being around plants
certainly seems to reduce
stress and engender a feeling of well-being in most
people, a benefit that is even more acute if correct
lighting is in place. The fact that the employer has
been prepared to spend money on something that has no
obvious function other than to make the workplace more
attractive may also be a contributing factor, by sending
a signal to staff that management cares!
help to increase retail spend.
The following two extracts from papers written
by an American researcher and a British shopping centre
manager highlight the importance of plants in retail
have long understood the importance of store environment
in enhancing the shopping experience. The outdoor landscape
can be a seamless extension of shop interiors, providing
indoor/outdoor continuity for a positive shopping experience.
Urban forestry can play an important role in business
districts. Interior plants and landscape may create
store interiors more favourable for retail activity.”
and Urban Nature: Creating a Consumer Habitat”,
K.L.Wolf, at the People/Plant Symposium, Amsterdam,
annual cost of maintaining the planting of the centre
is just under £ 1/4 million, or 4.3% of the annual
service charge. The fact that this massive sum of money
has never been queried is of vital importance. It implies
a complete acceptance of the existence of plants within
and around the centre as a fundamental factor in the
success of the centre. A subjective ingredient of the
centre too important to touch.
the medium of plants the centre successfully translates
outside to inside, relaxes almost everybody, all ages
and types of people relate to the atmosphere. The result
for the public is a perfect environment for the purposes
of shopping and leisure. The result for the tenant is
the second highest net profit per square foot in Britain.”
(Ref: “Am I Running a Greenhouse or a Shopping
Centre?”, J Bryson, Centre Manager, Metrocentre,
Gateshead, England at the BALI seminar, London, 1992).
much of the evidence is still subjective, it is clear
that professional retailers firmly believe that plants
are an integral part of the selling environment and
are prepared to allocate the space and resources to
They make buildings look more attractive and
Perhaps the most obvious reason for installing plants
and one that is backed up by research. A postgraduate
study carried out in a London hospital in 1995 provided
clear evidence that people do react more favourably
to a building when it contains plants than when it does
not. Hospital visitors were asked to respond to a descriptive
choice test using twenty pairs of bipolar adjectives
(quiet v noisy, cheerful v gloomy etc.). The results
showed that when plants were present in the reception
area of the hospital, users perceived it to
were no negative findings and all the results were independently
verified as being statistically significant. (Ref: “Human
Responses to Interior Planting”, J.V. Stiles,
PhD, Oxford Brookes University, 1995).
make a design statement.
Interior landscaping is becoming a fashion-driven business,
where as much effort is now put into the design of the
containers, accessories and overall “look”
as into plant selection. The current trend is for minimal,
clean-looking containers and strongly shaped architectural
tapered containers in galvanised steel or aluminium
and the “stone” look are particularly popular.
Simplicity is the key – underplanting and the
jungle effect are definitely out!
also our article on plants making a design
can be used for wayfinding.
many buildings there is a need to channel pedestrian
traffic towards significant landmarks, such as exits,
check-in desks, escalators and common passageways. This
is particularly important in premises with large, open
areas such as those found in airports, shopping malls,
hospitals and many large offices. Plants offer an attractive
and practical solution, providing a living barrier that
gently guides people to where you want them to go. (See
also the article on wayfinding
Choosing the right
plants and containers for this purpose is very important.
Spiky plants or those with sharp-edged leaves would
clearly be inappropriate in an area designed for heavy
pedestrian traffic flow. Containers need to be robust,
take up the minimum of floor space and in some situations
be linkable to form an impenetrable wall.
improve the indoor environment.
There is now general agreement within the scientific
community that plants improve the indoor environment,
and are useful weapons in the fight against the modern
phenomenon known as sick building syndrome (SBS). No
specific cause of SBS has been identified, but poor
air quality, excessive background noise and inadequate
temperature and light control are thought to be important
factors. Because plants have a large surface area and
exchange water and gases with their surroundings, they
have a unique ability to tackle many environmental problems.
In particular, plants can:
- Reduce levels of carbon dioxide,
which can accumulate in buildings from the breathing
of its occupants and the by-products of heating systems
and electrical equipment.
- Increase relative humidity, which
should be between 40% and 60% RH for maximum human
- Reduce levels of certain pollutant
gases, such as formaldehyde, benzene and nitrogen
- Reduce airborne dust levels.
- Reduce air temperatures.
- Reduce background noise levels.
In short, every
plant is a miniature air-conditioning system!
They can be used to soften/hide
less attractive features.
However well designed, most buildings have features
that are best kept covered, such as service areas, storage
facilities and harsh structural elements. Plants, with
their wide range of size, shape, habit and leaf form
provide an elegant solution that is both attractive
and functional. Containers like the patented Rentokil
'Lynx' system were developed with this purpose very
much in mind. The interlocking pots can be used to create
plant “walls” and create a continuous area
of greenery around pillars and other immovable obstructions.
can be used to break up large open areas.
The vast expanses of open space found in airports, stations,
shopping malls and open plan offices look soul-less
and intimidating unless “broken up” by familiar
objects. Plants are the most common solution, providing
natural divides and reference points that make the space
look more friendly and inviting.
Bringing a little of nature indoors, especially in urban
areas where people may not have had much exposure to
plant life can be both stimulating and educational.
Where else, other than the tropical plant houses of
botanical gardens, will you see the variety of exotic
and unusual plant species usually on display in shopping
centres and large office atria? The increasing use by
many establishments of plant labelling, with information
on species, origins and history, is increasing this
benefit even further and encouraging people to take
more interest in their surroundings.
can be used to reflect national or cultural aspects
of a business.
In the multinational
world of commerce, every country has businesses, whether
banks, hotels, manufacturing facilities or airlines,
from every corner of the globe. Many of them are proud
of their origins and wish to reflect it in the style
of building they occupy and the way it is furnished.
This doesn’t always just apply to the decor, fittings
and building design; companies are increasingly turning
to interior landscaping to make a national or cultural
statement. The stones, water and plants that form the
basis of Japanese gardens in many Far Eastern organizations
are an obvious example. So too are the native flora
and accessories used in Rentokil Tropical Plants’
“Australiana” range and the New Zealand
containers designed and manufactured by local artists.
New Zealand 'Uku' container
'Australiana' - Australian
native plants in a large interior feature bed
clearly tells us that people do respond positively to
the presence of plants in buildings. Healthy, well-maintained
plants in well-designed displays enhance the character
and appearance of a building and improve the psychological
and physical well-being of its occupants. Above all,
interior landscaping has been shown to be a sound investment
by reducing sickness absence, improving mental agility,
increasing use of communal facilities and positively
changing a person’s perception of a building.
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