By: Pratiksha Baruah (Architect)
I believe, Plants bring Life to a space. Through my works, I strive to introspect how a design implementation becomes beneficial both in terms of aesthetics and health. In other words, I try to amalgamate architectural features with human psychology and health.
I want to share my knowledge with the readers about the benefits of using plants in the interiors of a building. Specifically, I would like to concentrate on building such as a residence and an office or workspace, where a person spends most of his time in a day.
We already have a lot of green space outside then why should we have a landscape inside the walls? Substantial bodies of academic research, like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), has shown that benefits of interior landscaping go far beyond aesthetics.
Well, to start with, let me explain about the ‘paybacks’ of plants in indoors-
1. Too much Carbon dioxide inside!
A built environment with excessive amount of carbon-dioxide (CO2) leads to symptoms such as fatigue, breathing difficulties, headache, strained eyes and itchy skin, which are termed under “sick building syndrome” by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
The phenomenon of photosynthesis in plants helps in maintaining a CO2 level in the living spaces and as a result, improves the concentration and productivity of the occupant.
2. ‘Cleaner’ Air Quality
‘people are exposed to air pollutants both outdoors and indoors is obvious. Globally, people are spending an increasing amount of time indoors. There they are exposed to pollutants generated outdoors that penetrate to the indoor environment and also to pollutants produced indoors, for example as a result of space heating, cooking and other indoor activities, or emitted from products used indoors. The indoor air quality (IAQ) can be affected by toxin gases and particulates that can induce adverse health conditions to its building occupants.’- WHO (World Health Organisation)
There are toxic gases like Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Xylene etc. which off-gas into the indoor-air we breathe. These are termed as Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are emitted from various household products, building materials and surroundings.
Formaldehyde is one of the harmful gases emitted from plywood, particle board, carpets and rug and composite wood furnitures. Toluene and Benzene is another VOC released as a gas into indoor air at room temperatures. Major sources of Benzene are: Vehicle exhaust and evaporative emissions from gas-powered equipment can enter the home through attached garages and tobacco smoking. Formaldehyde and Benzene are considered by many authorities to be proven or probable human carcinogens. (Health Canada: hc-sc.gc.ca)
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is considered as an equally toxic chemical contributed to ambient air concentrations. Consumers may be exposed to TCE through the use of wood stains, varnishes, finishes, lubricants, adhesives, typewriter correction fluid, paint removers and certain cleaners, where TCE is used as a solvent may result in elevated indoor air concentrations. (WHO)
Xylene, another noxious chemical primarily released from industrial sources, in automobile exhaust, and during its use as a solvent. Hazardous waste disposal sites and spills of xylene into the environment are also possible sources of exposure. Breathing it in contaminated air may expose people to xylene. Typical levels of xylene measured in indoor air range from 1 to 10 ppb. One may come in contact with xylene through various consumer products including gasoline, paint, varnish, shellac, rust preventives, and cigarette smoke. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2007.)
Breathing vapours from all these products may result in various health hazards such as irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; impaired function of the lungs; delayed response to a visual stimulus; impaired memory; stomach discomfort; and possible changes in the liver and kidneys. Both short- and long-term exposure to high concentrations of xylene can also cause a number of effects on the nervous system, such as headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, and changes in one’s sense of balance.
Plants like, Dracaena marginata (dragon tree), Dracaena fragrans (cornstalk plant) and Phoenix roebelenii (miniature date palm) can eliminate the chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene and toluene. Aesthetically, these plants can be kept in the living room of residence or at the entrance of office reception.
Another air purifying plants which reduce great levels of formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene are Spathiphyllum wallisii (peace lily) and Dypsis lutescens (bamboo palm/ areca palm) which can add an embellishment to spaces like living rooms, study room or dining halls. Besides, areca palm can also be preferable for an office interior.
Howea forsteriana (Ketia palm) looks great in large spaces. Philodendron oxycardium (heart leaf philodendron) is a beautiful plant which can be an add-on to a kitchen shelf and bedroom. These two plants eliminate all kinds of VOCs, particularly from particle board. It is preferable to keep Epiremnum aureum (mon ey plant) in the south east corner of kitchen or bedroom or even an office space. Potting Aloe barbadensis-Sun loving succulent (aloe vera) in small ceramics in the kitchen corner may give an edgy beauty.
Plants like Gerbera jamesonii (gerbera daisy), Epipremnum aureum (Golden pothos), Aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) and Dypsis lutescens (bamboo palm) can promote a healthy sleeping pattern. They are preferable in the bedroom as these plants absorb CO2 and gives off O2 during night.
Keeping plants like Ficus Alii (ficus al gold) and Ficus benjami na (weeping fig) in the dining areas or indoor garden can provide Resistance to insects and pathogens and reduce pollutants from carpeting and furniture respectively. Nephrolepis exaltata, the sword fern (boston fern) is a tropical indoor plant which fits to any indoor area.
Bathroom is an area in the home, where though occupants spend less time but needs the most air purification. Dracaena plants, bamboo plants, cast-iron plants and ferns are the best plants to exemplify the bathroom in a different way. The bathroom wall or a narrow corner and the slab can be used to display the plants.
3. Plants are ‘healing’!
Creating a small ecosystem in the house can help its building occupants with various therapeutic properties. First of all, occupants experience less stress when plants are around. The green colour of plants relaxes the mind and puts the body at ease. Minor health issues like headaches, fatigue, blood pressure and anxiety are also reduced in the presence of lush green plants.
It would be beneficial to have indoor landscaping in the office spaces which help to make its workers more productive. Indoor plants help to improve the occupants’ concentration level as well as memory retention by 20 percent (study from Michigan State University). Let me also share with the readers, sick patients benefit significantly from rooms full of plants and flowers which help them recover faster.
4. Plants reduce Noise!
An interesting property of plants is that the plants absorb, diffract and reflect background no ise, thereby making the environment comfortable for the occupants. It can be mostly applied in workspaces with comparatively more amount of greenery around.
5. Plants add ‘beauty’ yet plants are beautiful!
Last but not the least aesthetics is a philosophy which is never to be denied! While placing the plants in the built environment, a well arrangement and a harmonious outcome must always be pictured in the minds. There can be different ways to add a visual appeal with plants.
In case of home, plants may be displayed in various innovative or conventional ways. To give some idea to readers, plants can be displayed on wooden shelves, table or a plant collection simply on the floor. Reusing things like ladders, lumber slabs or a hurricane lamb can be some awesome ideas to add a countryside look.
Creating a statement wall with brackets or displaying planters can be an add-on to the aesthetics both formally or informally. There can be various other ways also to display the plants for example, mounted shelves on the window, staircase, unused fireplaces, bedside or even hide away unused narrow corners and to create a partition in a large room.
In Conclusion, I would say plants can be as expressive as any work of art. The right way to place the plants in the indoors in order to make it beneficial to health and aesthetics is the utmost challenge.
Stay Happy, Stay Healthy, Stay Stress Free And Above All Make Your Indoors Beautiful!