Why working in the forest is good for society
What might a liveable working environment look like in the future? For Lisa Enzenhofer and Bernard König from green4cities, it’s obvious: offices belong in the forest!
Working in a room full of cheap plastic furniture with no natural light, beneath the constant, nerve-wracking hum of fluorescent tubes? This is the worst work environment Lisa Enzenhofer can imagine; for most office workers, though, it’s the normal situation. “That’s really sad,” says Enzenhofer, an Austrian architect and a participant in the third PlayLab to take place at the USM WorkHouse. “In Europe and throughout the western world, we spend about ninety per cent of our time inside. And there is so much beauty to discover outdoors.”
The affinity with nature is a primal feeling that subtly and instinctively influences our sense of well-being, Enzenhofer declares. “We don’t perceive our surroundings just through seeing and thinking, but also through how we feel. Whether we can feel the wind, the humidity, the grass under our feet. Those things are incredibly calming. This broader sense of perception also stimulates our imagination and our creativity. It’s precisely the disturbances and frictions that are important for the creative process.”
It’s on the basis of such experiences that Lisa Enzenhofer and Bernhard König – another architect and forest-lover – set up the ecosphere.institute, which focuses on natural processes, landscape, architecture and with the relationship to the human. At the beginning of 2018, they merged with green4cities to form an international development centre for urban green infrastructure. The mission: to make the city of the future greener. At the Expo 2015 in Milan, the green4cities team helped design the Austrian segment. The team constructed a 560-square-meter forest within the inner courtyard of the pavilion. This kept the temperature between five and ten degrees cooler than on the surrounding Expo site.
In the Czech Republic, Lisa Enzenhofer and Bernard König are currently planning the “Forest Tree Administration Building” – close to the woods, but with a domesticated interior. Office staff will be able to freely choose where they work, according to weather, mood, and the kind of tasks they have to do on the day. “Our goal is to make it possible for people to work in the midst of nature – and I don’t mean foresters or loggers. People who work in management ought to be able to experience how amazing it is to work in the forest, too.”
This totally fits with the paradigm shift Enzenhofer currently sees happening in the working world: employees are making stronger demands on their bosses for a healthy work environment. It pays to invest in this area – not only for companies, but also for the whole social system. “Our work environment in influences our health and also our psyche. And employees who are less sick are less of a burden on the health system,” Enzenhofer explains. So bringing more green to the city is a simple, sustainable investment in a liveable future.