Water at work: is more blue space the answer to the blues?
We’ve all heard of green space but what about blue space? Research shows that environments with a water feature may be even better for you than traditional plant-based biophilic design
One of the current sustainability trends that we are seeing in urban areas and in the workplace is incorporating green space and biophilia into design. It has been proven to have benefits on physical health, productivity and wellbeing. Despite the recognition that blue spaces also provide similar benefits, further research into this has been relatively limited.
Blue spaces are defined in a BlueHealth study as ‘outdoor environments – either natural or manmade – that prominently feature water and are accessible to humans either proximally (being in, on or near water) or distally/virtually (being able to see, hear or otherwise sense was)’. (1)
A study published in the Environmental Research Journal in 2020 found that being in close proximity to blue spaces can increase our mood. (2) Psychologist Laura Lee even suggests that blue spaces have added benefits over green ones because ‘Water seems to have more of a psychologically restorative impact than green spaces’.
Lee describes that the nature and movement of water itself as ‘almost meditative’, which can create an overwhelming sense of calm. (3) Similarly, a study done by the Barcelona Institute of Global Health found blue spaces to be more effective at reducing stress compared to green spaces (4).
‘Water seems to have more of a psychologically restorative impact than green spaces…’
Glasgow Caledonian University found workspaces close to rivers, canals and docks made employees feel more creative and productive in a study on urban blue spaces and their impact on mental health (5).
There has been growing popularity for water features located outside but within visibility of those inside the office. Across London, examples of this can be seen at Granary Square in London’s King’s Cross and in the South Plaza of the former Olympic Park. (4)
Of course, not every office can be located near natural water features, but even having the walls painted blue has been found to have benefits of instilling a sense of calm, with studies associating blue light with lowering blood pressure. (5)
‘Having the walls painted blue has been found to have benefits of instilling a sense of calm …’
Designers are now bringing water-inspired elements inside offices and installing fountains, water walls and fish tanks. One company that has seen the benefits of blue space is Bloomberg’s, which moved its fish tank from its old office in Finsbury Square to the sixth floor of its new HQ (6).
Granted, blue spaces are not the easiest to implement or maintain. You cannot change the location of rivers or oceans, but there are more tangible ways that the benefits can be incorporated into the workplace. With wellbeing and sustainability being high up on the agenda for the workplace, maybe it is time for blue spaces to get more attention.
- Grellier J, White MP, Albin M, Bell S, Elliott LR, Gascón M et al. (2017). BlueHealth: a study programme protocol for mapping and quantifying the potential benefits to public health and wellbeing from Europe’s blue spaces. BMJ Open.
- Mathew P. White., Lewis R. Elliott., Mireia Gascon., Bethany Roberts., Lora E. Fleming. (2020).Blue space, health and well-being: A narrative overview and synthesis of potential benefits, Environmental Research, Volume 191.
- Lewin, Evelyn., (2022) How ‘blue spaces’ have the power to improve your mental health.
- Bailey, Claire. (2020) Why blue space is the new biophilia in office design.OnOffice magazine
- University of Surrey. (2018). Blue light can reduce blood pressure, study suggests. ScienceDaily.
- (2017) We took a tour around Bloomberg’s new $1.3bn London office.