When California-based energy bar maker Clif Bar & Co ordered a $10 million expansion of its commercial bakery in Indianapolis, it compiled a wish list for construction manager Pepper Construction. Topping that list? Bring nature into the bakery.
That’s why Pepper and designer CSO Architects relied so heavily on biophilic design when overseeing this project, employing building practices that were designed to connect the bakery’s workers to the outdoors.
At Clif Bar’s Indianapolis facility, this meant cladding the building in rough limestone, native to the Indianapolis area, to give it a more natural exterior. It meant large windows that overlook green areas, so that employees can enjoy the outdoors even while working inside the bakery. The building also features multiple green walls, light plantings that live in potted arrangements that are then set inside interior walls. Again, the goal is to bring the outdoor environment indoors.
But the biophilic principles at the Clif Bar bakery aren’t just limited to plantings and green space. The renovation also included the addition of a large hanging light fixture created out of a salvaged boat, again incorporating a sense of the outdoors and adventure inside the work environment. Artwork dotting the facility includes rock-climbing and bicycling equipment. Walls lined with dry moss create texture, providing workers the feeling that they are always with nature even when they’re inside their workplace.
Calvin Young, manager of high-performance construction with Pepper Indiana, said that such design elements result in employees who are happy, healthier and more productive. Incorporating biophilic design, then, is a win for both workers and employers.
“The whole idea behind it is about bringing nature into the spaces we are working in,” Young said. “There is a connection that people have with nature. You get a certain feeling when you are outdoors or on a hike, or just being near a river or walking through a forest. It’s a feeling we get as human beings.”
Young said that biophilic design traces its origins to a study of hospital patients. Those who could see trees and scenic views from the windows in their rooms recovered faster than did those who didn’t have those views.
The goal of biophilic design, then, is to incorporate natural elements designed to increase the pleasure and comfort of the people using a building. For workspaces, this means doing whatever is necessary to enhance the comfort of workers.
Fortunately, companies such as Pepper have plenty of options when it comes to biophilic design.
“Usually we think about visual stimuli when it comes to this kind of design,” Young said. “But there are other elements we can incorporate. It’s about the airflow in a building. It could be about the sound of water and making sure workers can hear that sound from outside. It’s about bringing a sense of place to a project.”
Contractors focusing on biophilic design will typically bring more plants into a building. They’ll make sure their projects have large windows that look onto green space. In urban environments where green space isn’t plentiful, contractors will focus on bringing natural light throughout a building.
Other biophilic techniques include using fewer straight lines and incorporating more curves into a building’s design. As Young says, there aren’t many straight lines in nature. Avoiding them in buildings creates a more soothing, natural look to a structure.
Contractors will often incorporate wood and natural finishes in their designs and avoid the blander hues of white and black. They might even add large wall coverings showing scenes of forests or farm areas.
Pepper Construction relied on several of these techniques when completing the Clif Bar renovation. This job added 24,000 square feet of space to the 185,000-square-foot bakery building. The renovation doubled the bakery’s office space and expanded and modernized its employee eating area.
Pepper also added several new employee break rooms and lounge spaces. Other new amenities include a wellness room, mother’s room, fitness center and charging stations for electric cars.
Dan Peddicord, vice president with Pepper Construction’s Indiana office, oversaw the Clif Bar project. The challenge, he said, was that Clif Bar purchased a building that had served only as a manufacturing facility. The company wanted to bring warmth and nature to this largely sterile property.
A big problem? The manufacturing facility was surrounded by concrete parking lots. It’s hard to give employees access to outdoor green space when it doesn’t exist.
Peddicord, though, said that Pepper had a solution. The contractor focused on parking areas reserved for truck traffic and worker parking that Clif Bar no longer needed. Construction crews converted these lot spaces into rolling, green hills with trees and limestone landscaping.
Now, employees can gaze out the building’s large windows onto those hills and trees. It’s a far better view than a half-empty parking lot.
“Clif Bar has a corporate culture that focuses on outdoor activities,” Peddicord said. “That’s why we included a lot of reclaimed wood in the project and artwork that incorporated rock-climbing equipment or equipment you’d use for bike riding. The walls with dried moss are important, too. It’s all about creating the appearance that you are always in nature.”
The Clif Bar renovation didn’t come without challenges. Construction crews had to rip open the building’s existing side walls all while the bakery continued to operate. That brought a host of logistics and phasing challenges.
Pepper had to rework Clif Bar’s truck traffic, too, as it created the facility’s outdoor green spaces. Pepper also had to work around multiple shifts of workers who are in operation around the clock, seven days a week. The heavy pedestrian traffic meant that construction crews had to synchronize their work so that it wouldn’t disrupt Clif Bar’s production.
“The logistics and phasing aspects were the biggest challenges,” Peddicord said.
The finished result, though, more than makes up for these challenges. The reaction to the facility has been positive.
Young said that the Clif Bar renovation will not be the last to incorporate biophilic design. A growing number of businesses understand how important it is to create workspaces that boost the health, energy levels and morale of their workers.
“There is increased worker satisfaction in these buildings,” Young said. “There is increased social interaction. People take fewer sick days. They are less stressed. The employees are more efficient.”