Designer extraordinaire and fellow Brightonian, Oliver Heath, popped by the Magenta office a few weeks back to hear about our impending Biophilia project and catch up with the team about The Facilities Event in April (as well as travel, puppies, and Radio 6…)
Esme sat down with him to ask a few questions from the team.
- Can you suggest any simple or easy-to-do tricks for creating more Biophilia in our homes?
There’s the thought that when you introduce Biophilic design, it’s going to be a costly thing. But really, it’s about finding somewhere that you’re content and can have that human interaction with nature. It’s really not about spending thousands of pounds on plants!
We have a responsibility to our own wellbeing – whether that’s at home or at work. Small changes like taking the more scenic route into work puts us back in touch with nature. In Brighton, this may simply be walking to the office along the seafront promenade. Increasingly we hear people talking about our body’s ‘circadian rhythms’, and having the sunlight on our faces is good for this, so taking yourself out for a walk is great.
Having pets can help to extend people’s lives by reducing psychological stress through being out and about. We have a puppy called Zeph (which means wolf in Hebrew) and two cats. Granted, animals cost money, but getting out of the house and in the fresh air is free.
We need to understand that natural light affects us all. It can impact your overall mood, hormone release and crucially our sleep/wake cycles. A top tip from me would be to keep your windows clean and arrange your furniture so that it’s close to the natural light. This way you can sit and look out at the non-rhythmic sensory stimuli – all the things that are constantly moving, but remain the same, like ripples in water or blades of grass blowing in the wind.
- Where’s your favourite place to unwind and recharge?
At the beach – running, paddle boarding, or maybe swimming.
- It’s unfortunate that the majority of working environments do not take into consideration the wellbeing of their staff. If you could suggest one thing to employers to improve staff welfare, what would it be?
Have variety and bio diversity of spaces. If you create a forest comprising of only pine trees and nothing else, and a pine tree beetle comes along and wipes it all out, you’re left with no forest at all. Just as you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket, bio diversity is all about variety. It’s the same for workplaces. You need something that allows for all types of working, so offer as much choice and control as you can.
- So many people refuse to have plants in their home/office as they claim to not have a ‘green thumb’ to look after them. What would you say to these people?
I’d remind them that Biophilic design is more than just having plants and greenery. Although, these do add incredible texture, colour, movement and vibrancy. If you have them and then take them away it will always create emptiness and soullessness.
I don’t think there is any such thing as a ‘green thumb’ – just have a go, do some research and try and understand and appreciate each plant. Some plants will visibly change in appearance when they are lacking in water which make them easier to look after. The Peace Lily is a great example of this, as the leaves will begin to droop.
- What things outside of A&D inspire you and your work?
Travel. I recently took an amazing trip to the Peruvian Amazon. And, just, wow! Also, the Red Sea Coast peninsula I’ve visited multiple times. I love the contrast of the coral reef and desert next to one another. I tend to see cities quite a lot with work which is great, but often my personal travel sees me go further afield. That said, memorable buildings always remind me of a good travel experience.
- Who is someone you really admire?
Stephen Kellert, one of the founding fathers of Biophilic design. I got the chance to meet with him before he died last year. He blended psychology and architecture and looked at how nature can enhance a sense of community. He could recognise new ideas and adaptations in society, and he was an open-minded man.
- It’s time for a holiday, do you go into the city, or into the wild?
Into the wild. Definitely. Ideally to the forest – anywhere with lakes and waterfalls. I’ve always loved the national parks in Portugal as they’re beautiful and not too far away from the UK.
- Give an example of a piece of design that has inspired you recently
The Amazon headquarters in Seattle is a pretty inspirational project. It opened a couple of weeks ago now and has been Jeff Bezos’ pet project. Obviously, Amazon had the budget to create something really incredible. The ability to attract nature and staff is truly amazing and is a great example of where Biophillic design is currently at. Much of my job is finding the middle ground down from this.
We’re working on an ‘active air’ project at the moment which is very exciting. We’ve got a portable rentable green wall that will effectively clean the air. Many don’t realise that furniture and technology both exude gases, and plants can counter this by cleaning and neutralising the air.
- If you could only attend one industry event this year, which one would it be and why
Next week I’m off to a Frame event in Amsterdam as part of Dutch Design Week. It has very high design credibility and I’m really looking forward to it. Having said that, Clerkenwell Design Week is the top dog of design events. You can see everything, and you feel part of it – the sense of containment is unique.
- You can only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be
There’s one I’m listening to a lot at the moment by Hidden Orchestra called ‘Dawn Chorus’ – it’s very ambient and seems to mask out other noises, so it lends itself perfectly to working remotely. I also really like Beta Band, but I have to admit I don’t know a specific album of theirs. I’m fascinated by how sound can inspire us. We are currently doing a study with Ecophon, on biophillic design and acoustics and how nature can enhance our experience. I also have Radio 6 playing every day as I like the diversity of music they have on the show.
- What country other than the UK would you like to live in?
I have strong links with Israel as I have family out there. When you travel there and go to Tel Aviv, you get the sense everyone just gets on, and wants the same thing. It’s quite rare and not what you’d expect. There is such a mix of culture. It’s wonderful to see, and it’s very open and socially diverse for the Middle East. If I had to pinpoint somewhere right now… I’d live in San Francisco though.
- As he likes plants so much, you could ask him whether he believes in herbal remedies?
Food has a big role to play in the workplace and I believe nutrition has a big impact on wellbeing. Whether this steps into the realm of herbal remedies, I’m not sure. I’m currently searching for a new office and I really want one that has a proper kitchen!
Keep up with Oliver online at @Oliver_Heath