After witnessing a year of Americans isolating, distancing and generally feeling uneasy about sharing indoor spaces, some developers believe biophilic design could help revive workplaces and public spaces in the post pandemic world.  

COPT was in the midst of designing its Wayline building on Columbia Gateway Drive when the pandemic began. Although Wayline was already envisioned as an office building with a Bohemian vibe, COPT designers decided it would need to offer an additional level of comfort to attract workers back once the COVID-19 outbreaks subsided.  

“Biophilic design has a great track record of providing comfort and reducing stress by providing visions of nature or natural elements,” said Mark Wendell, Senior Manager of Design + Development for COPT.  

The developer adjusted the project’s design and budget to create enhanced outdoor spaces and bring more natural elements inside in order to support employee wellness and productivity. The building,  which opened earlier this year, features handcrafted furniture, a one-of-a-kind plant chandelier, large windows and ample natural light. The building’s exterior includes beds of native plants, a yoga lawn and a basketball court. Its expansive green space and terrace have moveable tables and chairs, wifi service, ambient music and an adjacent food truck ally.  

“The space is designed so that someone can unplug from their desk, go outside, connect with wifi and arrange the tables and chairs to either work alone or have a meeting,” Wendell said. “They could also go outside to just relax or do a yoga class, enjoy lunch or have a happy hour.”  

Brisk leasing activity at Wayline indicates that companies “are really happy with this design,” he said. “They see it as a recruiting tool to bring people back into the office. It creates a workspace where you don’t have to sit at your desk all day, where you can take your laptop and go work in the lobby or outside” – a feature that could be attractive to employees who have settled into the comforts of working from home. 

Gradually, biophilic design is becoming part of other real estate projects and not just office buildings. At 7820 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Design Collective has included biophilic elements in its plan for a 31-story multi-family, mixed-use building. The site is next to a planned new public park, so the Design Collective team is working with Montgomery County Parks and Planning departments to holistically integrate the new high rise and the public green space. Apartments will feature oversized balconies that span the full width of the unit to create seamless indoor-outdoor living space and extend the park vertically.  

“The project’s 31 stories extrude the park to the sky. Park-front, restaurant dining terraces are woven with the landscape, encouraging a mingling of public and private,” said Nick Mansperger, Principal and Project Designer at Design Collective. “Residents are surrounded by nature as trees and plantings ascend the façade’s grand verandas to the 5th level clubhouse, where a spine of communal gardens climb to the 30th floor terrace.”  

The design melds “environmentally responsive European facades with East Asian connectivity to nature,” Mansperger said. “This spine of three-story hanging gardens and trees is the genesis from which residents are encouraged to plant their elongated terraces, eventually creating a dynamic organic canopy of plantings in the sky. By infusing urban residents’ lifestyle with nature, we intend to maximize wellness while minimizing environmental footprint… all while living in the tallest building in Bethesda.”