Feature Article

Productivity and Green Buildings

I do most of my focused writing in my home office—where I’m sitting now. I used to think that I liked to work at home because it was free from most distractions, but as I learn more about the relationship between the spaces where we work and our productivity and creativity, I’m becoming convinced that there are many other reasons. The view of filtered sunlight sparkling on dew-covered ferns outside my windows, for example, may be providing a sense of well-being or relaxation that boosts my productivity.

Natural daylighting and views to the outdoors, factors in increased productivity, were high priorities in the design of the Gilman Ordway Building at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, designed by William McDonough + Partners.

Photo © Judy Watts Wilson
We have long known on an intuitive level that our work environment impacts our performance; it’s the fundamental reason company managers spend billions of dollars each year upgrading work environments, investing in better office furniture, and improving acoustics. But our understanding of this relationship has been rudimentary at best. We are now beginning to quantify the benefits of a better work environment and translate that vague intuition into measurable bottom-line benefits. The same process is occurring in classrooms, where certain features are being shown to improve learning; in hospitals, where similar features promote healing; and even in retail establishments, where particular features apparently increase sales.

Many of the attributes of buildings that are being shown to improve human performance and productivity are also characteristics of green buildings: daylighting, views to the outdoors, improved air quality, and individual control of fresh air and comfort. Indeed, for many types of buildings, the evidence of improved productivity is—or will become—the most compelling reason to pursue a green agenda. This article examines the complex but fascinating issue of human productivity as it relates to building design. While most relevant to those involved in commercial building design, this discussion relates to anyone with a child in school or who may use hospital services at some point.

Published October 1, 2004