nature's secret weapon

ann demeulemeester shop design by mass studies

There is a Symbiotic relationship between humans and plants

we consume O2 and produce CO2.

plants consume CO2 and produce O2

Life is sustained by the O2 produced by plants.

We were evolved to live outside.

We actually spend only 20 minutes in the open every day. 

We now spend most of our time in controlled but polluted environments.

valcucine edible greenwall


Plants are the most efficient way of improving air quality and maintaining adequate humidity levels (1).

Our bodies contain 100 synthetic chemicals  more than those of our grandparents(2). Plants absorb harmful manmade VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), emitted as gases from certain solids and liquids, and which have proven adverse effects on health. plants emit natural vocs in the form of scent.

"manmade VOCs are typically not acutely toxic but have chronic effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness."

common VOCs are: Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Benzene, N-Hexane, Xylene, emitted by Printers, copiers, Monitors, chipboard, fibreboard, some Insulation materials, Furniture, floor finishes, adhesives, Paints, Cleaning products, air Fresheners (!) and Cosmetics (perfume, deodorants, hair spray etc).

VOC concentrations are approx. 10 times higher indoors, and are responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year(3). Plants absorb VOCs through their leaves and convert them into Nitrogen in their root systems, a basic nutrient for plant growth. So plants recycle VOC's into their own food.

Plants reduce stress levels in buildings.  N.I.C.E. recommends the use of planted areas for pre and post-operational areas in British hospitals following research(4). results showed that pulse and blood pressure return to normal more rapidly in planted areas.


Plants improve acoustics, and can define spaces, be used as divisions, features and objects. Plants dissolve  barriers between outside and inside, and create a perception of a relaxed and comfortable environment.


Employees appreciate planting  by their employers, feel more involved in their place of work (think of pathological plant strokers and waterers), and work more effectively as a result.

failures to engage employees input in workspaces (5)  can reduce productivity by 32%, or €92 bn, and most employees want planting. Men are less aggressive and more creative in planted environments, whereas women improve their problem solving abilities. Both sexes show 23% higher concentration levels.

The denial or removal of plants in order to achieve perceived cost savings adversely affect motivation,  productivity, absenteeism, air quality and CO2 levels, so perceived savings are converted into real costs. 

Plants can reduce symptoms linked to Sick Building Syndrome and consequential absenteeism by up to 45%.

plant filled buildings require less humidity control, air quality control and naturally extract CO2, with consequent energy savings.

best office environment paris 2008


Plants should be incorporated at the beginning of the design process, and not merely artistically positioned once the building is completed and/or sick.

planting should be adequately selected, serviced, lit and easily maintained.

until non-voc producing products, furniture and materials are readily available,, plants should be used to counter these currently unavoidable pollutants, and it is clear that economic arguments against the incorporation of plants in built environments are both deeply flawed and clearly counter-productive.  

Plants should therefore be an inherent part of any building, through legislation if necessary. properly specified planting is part of the accreditation process for LEED in the US and STAR in Australia, but apparently not elsewhere.

Kitchen herb Garden proposed by Eon


(1) Thomas Palfreyman, eFig (European Federation of Interior Landscaping Groups) Green Building Podcast BrightTALK 21/04/2011

(2) Guardian Environmental Supplement Jan 2000

(3) world health organisation

(4)The National Institute for Clinical Excellence

(5) Research by the University of Exeter

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