How do the spaces in which we spend most of our daily lives impact us? This question has prompted startups and professionals to reflect on how to improve their workspaces to boost capabilities to the max. Neuroarchitecture, a discipline that seeks to improve our relationship with our environment, is gaining ground in this regard and was the focus of the latest BBVA Open Innovation masterclass.
Living rooms were turned into playgrounds, kitchens became places to take a breather over a cup of coffee, and bedrooms were converted into makeshift offices. The coronavirus crisis redefined businesses and homes and challenged us to reflect on whether the places we live in are optimal against a backdrop where working from home has gained ground and where we spend a lot of time connected to our devices.
However, only an estimated 41.5% of Spanish homes are considered fit to work in, according to a report by Randstad Research. This figure hints at a concern increasingly shared by professionals and companies: how to build healthier spaces that enhance well-being and performance. Neuroarchitecture, a discipline that analyses how people respond cognitively and emotionally to their environment to boost memory, increase productivity and prevent stress, is one of the cornerstones of this concept.
“We spend around 90% of our lives in buildings and our experiences depend to a large extent on the space in which they happen”, says Rita Gasalla, president of the Observatory for Healthy Architecture (OAS) and CEO of Galöw Arquitectura Saludable. “Healthy architecture enhances a brand’s image and reputation, reduces costs, attracts talent and boosts engagement among employees and customers”. In this sense, neuroarchitecture can increase the profitability of businesses.
But how can we design and rethink the places we live and work in based on healthy architecture? In response to this question, at the last BBVA Innovation Masterclass, Clara Molero, a researcher in neuroarchitecture, and José Valverde, founder and manager of Valgreen E-COvivienda, explained the guidelines that any startup or professional should follow to improve their workspaces:
At BBVA, neuroarchitecture is also applied in the green areas on the terraces of the Torre BBVA in Mexico City, the gardens of the Pendik Campus in Istanbul, as well as in Madrid’s Ciudad BBVA. ‘La Vela’, a construction that provides natural lighting to all the workstations thanks to the shape of the building, is a feature of the space in Madrid. “The horizontal design of the buildings and the introduction of open spaces, as well as the unique streets with gardens and fountains, make Ciudad BBVA a better place to work”, says Alberto Agustín, Discipline Senior Manager of space management and employee services at BBVA.
Neuroarchitecture is also now being incorporated into the evolution of the BBVA Group’s offices, says Agustín, under some of the principles that drive this trend. These include lighting, vegetation, a variety of finishes and a combination of different heights in interiors: low ceilings provide a sense of protection, while high ceilings stimulate creativity.
Gearing buildings towards sustainability and leveraging the advantages of technology to equip them are two other fundamentals of neuroarchitecture. To this end, José Valverde, from Valgreen E-COviviendas, advocates integrating photovoltaic panels and greater insulation to protect buildings from the cold and heat. They translate into savings and contribute to the energy transition.
In fact, BBVA has reduced its carbon footprint by 58% between 2015 to 2021 thanks to “the installation of photovoltaic panels and chargers for electric cars, promoting the consumption of local products and donating surpluses in our cafeterias”, explains Alberto Agustín. The bank launched a pilot test at Ciudad BBVA in 2022 to test new technology features by incorporating touch screens, interactive whiteboards and new videoconferencing equipment adapted to all platforms.
Technology can also be used to plan spaces better. Rita Gasalla, from the Observatory of Healthy Architecture, says that virtual reality and the metaverse will be “valuable resources” for designing spaces in line with the principles of this new architectural trend.
Neuroarchitecture is no longer something unknown to organisations and implementing it can be an essential pillar of a company’s success. “If we want our employees to contribute ideas and solutions to their company, it is important to design the spaces they use by applying the principles of neuroarchitecture and healthy architecture”, Gasella says. “People’s well-being is directly proportional to their productivity”.