I have no need to be embarrassed. My teenage years were in the 80s and it’s obvious to me that I enjoyed the golden years of modern music. Well I copped a bit of the 70s tail which was also awesome, but they didn’t have Duran Duran, INXS [R.I.P] or Peter Garrett singing his guts out for a cause.
The 80s were also where we started to lose our way with building design. We got greedy and lazy. We started to seal our buildings up and wallow in cheap energy. We had that awful ‘chunky tubing’ stuff which is now thankfully almost all removed. Perhaps we were so distracted by the cool music that we gave up on everything else…?
But now we’re in the midst of a renaissance of opening our buildings up to nature again. The signs are all around us, and this time it’s being driven by health benefits as much as by energy efficiency.
There is a growing well of research which has established a link between indoor plants and improved occupant health, either directly or indirectly. Ironically the tipping point was a NASA study carried out in 1989 [Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ was the top single that year] where they began exploring ways in which plants could be grown in space to support missions.
There is now so much evidence about the health benefits of indoor plants that the question of whether or not to have indoor plants in our workplace has become one of ‘Duty of Care’… the real question is ‘can we afford not to have indoor plants?’.
There are two components to the health benefits of indoor plants; VOC Removal and the Biophilic Response.
V0latile Organic Compounds, or in my words ‘new car smell’ [love it don’t we?!], are used in a multitude of products that we use to construct and furnish our homes, our hospitals, our offices and every other thing we build or manufacture – these are ‘anthropogenic VOCs’ as opposed to those that are naturally occurring. There are 100s of human-made VOCs in use, many of which are known carcinogens [kind of makes you pay attention doesn’t it?].
A great study was published by Prof. Margaret Burchett of the University of Technology Sydney [UTS], which demonstrated that indoor plants are able to remove all traces of VOCs from an enclosed environment over a 48 hour period. And it’s the bacteria in the soil that do the work rather than the plants… the bacteria rely on the soil and the plant’s roots to survive – no plant, no bacteria, no VOC removal. This research paper is short and punchy – worth reading.
Whilst we’re transitioning to low/no-VOC materials [and believe me that one’s racing forward], the ability of indoor plants to clean the air for us seems like a good idea [almost as good as the music I’m listening to right now].
Biophilia relates to the human response to nature – in short; we have evolved immersed in nature, and to maintain a connection with nature in our environment has a biological / health benefit.
Various studies in hospital wards [here’s an example which is by no means the only one] have revealed that patients in rooms with some indoor plants consistently reported higher levels of comfort and satisfaction, took less drugs for low to medium pain [big cost saving], had lower blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety and fatigue [which aids healing] and required less care [another cost saving]… compared to patients in rooms without plants.
So if we know plants help patients in hospitals heal, it’s probably a great idea to have plants in our homes, our offices and our schools.
There is compelling evidence showing that we are better off with plants around us. How to incorporate them into our designs of any scale is the fun part, whether it be our home, a refurbished workplace, a hospital or a city master plan… whether it be indoor plants, outdoor plants or a blurring of buildings-place-nature. Rockin’ stuff.
Now hug a plant and go listen to some 80s music.