Attracting New Clients with the Power of Nature and Partnership

Plants—like accessible restrooms, safe detailing and materials—should be an absolute requirement for any building type. A recent study titled The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace found that 58 percent of office environments don’t have any plants. This is quite unfortunate, and though we can certainly look at it as a problem, we can also look at it as an incredible opportunity!

Over the past 25 years I have been on a serious mission to bring biophilic design—elements that foster human connection with the natural world and wellbeing—into the places we live, work, learn and heal. To change the minds of clients who do not initially see the value of our green-leafed friends in their spaces, takes new ways of working dynamically with nature’s magnificence and power, a consideration for the balance of art and science, and the element of meaningful partnerships to bring life to these relationships and spaces. 

My suggested approach might seem a little unconventional initially, but it is incredibly effective, is rooted in science, and is an easier and more enjoyable process than most would think. I have certainly made enough wrong turns along the way that I was able to find a way that really does work to bring more nature into spaces where we work, learn, live and heal. 

Bring the Unexpected

On a late Friday afternoon a little over a year ago, my team found out that we had secured a spot to interview for Donor Network of Arizona’s new headquarters the following Monday—very short notice. We were one of only three firms invited to interview. If they had based the selection solely on a similar project experience—on paper we would not have been hired. But instead of spending the entire weekend scraping together the all too predictable PowerPoint presentation and rushing to prepare and practice, we instead boldly considered bringing something different, unexpected and delightful into the room.

I have found from working as a biophilic designer, that most people have sadly lost touch with the wonder and grace of connection to nature, and need to be reminded personally, and experientially of its inherent value. Instead of the typical, expected slide-presentation of previous projects, we brought in an inviting, sensory-rich, natural box-of-curiosities.

Like candy to our senses – textured stones, natural smooth wood, natural cacao snacks (all senses engaged!), and of course – a few beautiful plants were enclosed. In a short period of time, the clients could experience first-hand the ways we would consider the senses and bring the space to life, when designing for their new space.

Being daring, passionate and authentic paid-off, and we were awarded the project! 

Bringing in Reinforcements

 To maximize the design opportunities and get them to truly commit to biophilic design elements, including plant programs and beautiful living walls, clients must hear the science and the associated research that undoubtedly proves the value of such features. This work shouldn’t happen in siloes.

Historically, architects, designers and plantscapers have worked in isolation, designing, and proposing ideas to clients. This isn’t the way of the future, and it certainly isn’t the way forward for creative and innovative projects. For this particular project, it wasn’t the way we would be able to fully convince the client of integrating a plant program into the space.  

Bringing industry partners like interior plantscapers to the table early to work alongside the core design team allows us to bring research, maintenance information, detailing of elements, engineering aspects and associated cost together as a unified and authentic vision to a client.

For the Donor Network of Arizona’s new headquarters, having Plant Solutions on-board early helped the owner and team better understand the best location for the plants, plant types, maintenance details and light requirements.

Ideally, a project biophilic design workshop is conducted early in the project. In lieu of a workshop, I have found an integrative design process is the best path forward and it has saved me countless times. Everyone benefits, especially nature!

Partnership is Key

With early engagement, art meets science, details are worked out early, and the client is informed and empowered every step of the way when partnerships are embraced!

Plantscapers and interior architects need closer working relationships, and earlier engagement with clients to create successful partnerships and projects. This is how we will start to ensure that plants find homes in all buildings.

It also allows for more joy and meaning in our work, when team members are engaged from the beginning of the design process, as an equal contributor and visionary for the project.

Design teams and plantscapers can build coalitions to further collaborate by attending professional organization meetings from associations like the AIA, ASID, IIDA, WELL Certified, Green Plants for Green Buildings, Neocon GreenBuild, and the International Living Future Institute

Additionally, by presenting together at annual industry conferences, and by sharing and learning from each other in online resources, together we can support the broad awareness and many educational aspects of biophilic design. Particularly the many required aspects and considerations for plant programs in buildings.

 I am optimistic that with more partnerships we can help create more healing and happiness in the world through wondrous vegetation. It will take a village however – and we can’t do this work alone.

Working together with creative interiorscaping partners like Plant Solutions for Donor Network of Arizona’s new headquarters, is just one more step forward to ensure clients are educated, engaged, enthused, and transformed to true life-long believers in the essential need for plants and life flourishing in and around our buildings! 

The clients even stated – they could never imagine their new headquarters without the plants. Neither could I.

Sonja Bochart, IIDA, LEED AP BD&C, WELL AP, LFA a design leader in health and wellness for over twenty-five years, has an extensive background in supporting teams and projects to support both human and ecological well-being. She works nationally as a senior designer and biophilia consultant – focusing on fostering human-nature connection in design. Her portfolio, in-person and online consulting, and project references include leading the design for projects in all building sector projects and manufacturers, including typologies workplace, healthcare, educational, community, behavioral health, residential, cultural centers, including product design and marketing. Sonja serves as a recognized leader and educator in the industry, teaching at Arizona State University’s Herberger School of Design and contributing to such groups as Interior Design’s Healthcare and Wellness Council. She also currently serves on the advisory council for the International Living Future Institutes Biophilic Design Initiative and serving as a board member for Green Plants for Green Buildings. As an advocate for cultivating connections between people and natural systems, Sonja is one of the foremost facilitators for project and team biophilic design workshops, including biophilia consulting for recent projects for the University of Washington’s Population Health Building, De Montfort University Leicester, The Port of Seattle, Metroflor Corporation, Georgia Institute of Technology - Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, Ball State University, The Port of Seattle, and numerous projects for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

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