Ana Karinna Hidalgo
PhD candidate in Environmental Design
University of Calgary
Organizations have being changing the way in which they conceive the workplace. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when mass production required mechanical tasks, to nowadays when a work can be performed not only in the office but in any place, the search of better layouts or systems to design workplaces is still undergoing.
The design of the workplace is an interdisciplinary task that involves ergonomics, design and its various disciplines, environmental psychology, and other fields according to the type of work the organization does. The interdisciplinary group that decides about the layout of the place most of the time fail to consider individual needs or tastes, they may not allow each worker to personalize the space, they may not even think about physical characteristics of the people that work for the company. Therefore psychological and spiritual needs used to be out of discussion.
Because of a more comprehensive understanding of the human body and behavior, new topics are nowadays considered when designing work environments. Territoriality, ergonomics, personalization of the space, and biophilic design are important concepts to be taken into account. Territoriality fulfills the personal needs of efficiency and competency, self-identity and place of one’s own . Within this space, ergonomics provides the tools and information to make the work tasks more comfortable and avoid injuries and pain that worsen people’s health condition in general and productivity in particular .
Personalization is a powerful concept. When a person has the freedom to arrange elements such as furniture, decoration, plants, and colours in the office, dorm, or any workplace, increased productivity is a real result. A study  tests the effect of four different environments on people’s productivity. The different workplaces are a ‘lean’ office with its essential equipment, an ‘enriched’ one that was decorated with plants and art pictures, an ‘empowered’ space where people decided the arrangement of the elements, and the ‘disempowered’ where the experimenter changed the personal touches made. As a result, the productivity and well-being of participants increased much more in the ‘empowered’ office, the customized workplace. In this environment participants were happier and more efficient than in the others.
Besides the customization of the office, creating a sense of place in the place we live and work is psychological convenient. For instance, a personalization of the university dorm helps improving the academic performance of students. The opportunity to not only decorate the space that will be home for the following years, but also to arrange flexible furniture, paint the room with the preferred colours and put a taste of home, gives students a sense of self and security that will support them during their studies . Yet not all residence services at universities have policies that will allow students to have such a freedom. However, improved academic performances and reduced levels of stress among students are strong reasons to consider promoting personalized dorms.
The accumulation of stress and mental fatigue becomes an impediment for work or academic performance. Several studies show that biophilic elements positively affect mental health. Edward O. Wilson defines Biophilia as our innate urge as humans to relate to other forms of life and natural processes . Work environments can benefit from including these elements in their design and be transformed into spaces that also restore mental health (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Clusters of Biophilic Elements
The proposed clusters of restorative biophilic elements can be used for the design of public and private spaces. The effect of most of these elements on people’s behavior and health are still an open research area .
As part of my research studies, I found that even winter vegetation in urban spaces helps reducing mental fatigue. The benefits of bringing vegetation back into our environments are threefold (Figure 2). Trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses, cactuses, hopefully endemic species, provide mental health benefits by decreasing stress and mental fatigue levels. These natural elements also bring aesthetics to the workplace. Finally, a larger-scale benefit of recovering endemic vegetation is the restoration of natural landscapes.
Figure 2. Benefits of personalized and biophilic environments
The opportunities to personalize the workplace, the dorm, and home should increase. Every chance to incorporate our taste in a place constitutes a psychological health benefit. Preferred colours, plants and our own belongings are important factors to promote this restorative process in a daily basis. One’s space needs to be green and have a personal taste.
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 Gifford, R. (2014). Environmental Psychology. Principles and Practice (5th ed.). Victoria, BC: Optimal Books.
 Haslam, S., & Knight, C. (2010). Cubicle, Sweet Cubicle. Scientific American Mind, 21(4), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24943128
 Clemons, S., et al. (2005). Importance of Sense of Place and Sense of Self in Residence Hall Room Design: A Qualitative Study of First-Year Students. Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 2/2005, pp. 73-86 (14).
 Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. The human bond with other species. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: Harvard University Press.
 Hidalgo, A. K. (2014). Urban streets: towards a psychological restorative function. In 2nd Future of Places International Conference on Public Space and Placemaking (Ed.), Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity. Academic Session Papers 2014 Part II. (pp. 240–258). Stockholm: Ax:son Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from http://futureofplaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/FoPII-Academic-Papers-part-2.pdf
No Sunset – Gary Gress
No Sunset was painted in the Fall of 2015, after Gary Gress joined The College and moved into Crowsnest Hall. It’s about eternal friendship and romance.