These days, when it comes to building and designing offices, architects will often consult with neuroscientists, as well as engineers. The impact of arches, roof height, lighting, and many other aspects of office design, directly impact the productivity and wellbeing of those who work within it.
“All art is quite useless,” Oscar Wilde once wrote in his preface, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Art has been definitions and descriptions, as it cannot be pinned down to a single quantitative entity.
Art is somewhat of an unnecessary necessity, especially in modern times.Imagine the world without art and culture – it wouldn’t be much fun: no music, no cinema, dance, literature, poetry, pictures, and paintings. Art is a medium of creativity, both for the creator and the viewer.
Art can also be an expression, a thousand words, of an individual’s perspective on human rights, animal rights, the economy, and politics. It can also be a visual interpretation of passion related to sport, nature, or love.
The decision to include art or not is just one factor that is important when creating an office that promotes productivity and helps a business recruit the right people.
Paintings in the Workplace
Humans have been painting for thousands of years. The oldest known painting dates back over 45,000 years and can be found within a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
“Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.”
? Keith Haring
Research suggests that paintings can have a significant impact on our mood and wellbeing. Some psychologists claim that the simple act of looking at a painting can profoundly affect the way we view the world.
When we look at art that we like, our brain produces “reward chemicals” such as dopamine, and stress levels can also decrease in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones such as cortisol.
When we look at art, a part of the brain called the anterior insula is activated. This part of the brain is key to understanding and feeling emotions.
With this in mind, art can impact work. For example, if art can elevate mood, it could help to enhance creativity and help individuals become more open-minded and less cynical.
Abstract art can force us to use different processing skills, and it often “frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to flow within its inner states, create new emotional and cognitive associations, and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access” (quote source).
Novelty and working in a novel environment is one proven way to improve motivation and wellbeing. Rotating and replacing paintings may be the easiest way to achieve a novel office environment. Moreover, paintings can inspire and motivate in and of themselves.
Colors are everywhere, and they impact our mood and our perceptions. The impact of colors tends to differ somewhat from country to country.
For example, the color orange tends to make people feel more hungry, whereas the color blue is an appetite suppressant. In studies and observations, pink has been shown to relax people, and too much yellow can cause stress.
The color you should use to paint or decorate your office will depend on those working from the building. Having said that, white can give a clinical feel to an office that may be unwelcoming, and red makes people feel that things are urgent. Urgency could be something you want to create, but it can also cause anxiety.
Green is Good
It’s still debated how long humans have existed, but whatever the date is for the first human, we know that we lived outdoors for 99% of human history. The term “biophilia” relates to the bond that humans have with nature. According to this TEDx Talk by Scott Wyatt, if you can see a try from your chair in the office, your cognitive performance will go up as long as it’s within 100 yards.
While not an office at Massachusetts General Hospital, patients can face a healing garden from their beds from their recovery wards following surgery. Research has shown that a patient recovers faster and goes home sooner when they are in the ward surrounded by views of nature. Legal answering service provider Moneypenny invested in a new office in 2016. With 10 acres of green space, several nature walks, a balcony, and beautiful rural surroundings, the office uses huge cathedral-style windows to provide views of trees, animals, and landscapes for the majority of employees. Interestingly, the senior staff members have offices that have views only of the car park!
A Glass Ceiling?
While there is no data on literal glass ceilings that I am aware of, low ceilings have been shown in studies to improve your cognitive performance in mathematics, while high ceilings strengthen your ability to think spatially and conceptually.
Cubicles & Minimalism
Regardless of how much art is stuck to the sides of an individual’s cubicle, they are terrible for mental health. Cubicles may still be necessary for some jobs, such as call center work, but humans and other animals love to see far and wide – so that they can see predators coming. Although you are unlikely to encounter a bear or lion in the office, we are still evolutionarily designed to desire open spaces, and cubicles make us feel anxious and isolated.
Early humans very carefully picked where they were to live with “prospect and refuge” in mind. Prospect relates to the ability to see what’s coming, and refuge concerns the location’s ability to provide a hiding place. Cubicles don’t allow us to do any of these. We can’t really hide, and we certainly can’t see what’s coming.