You may be familiar with the Clif Bar, a cereal bar that markets itself to outdoor enthusiasts. I don’t come across them very often in the UK, but I look out for them. They’re one of those companies with a solid ethical culture, committed to going the extra mile for people and planet. They use organic ingredients, renewable energy, and were the first company in the US to offer staff a cash grant to help them switch to hybrid cars. Staff can also earn bonuses by cycling to work. The company was founded by baker and mountaineer Gary Erickson, and the enterprise is co-owned by the family and the employees.
With a couple of decades of sustainability innovation behind them, their new factory was always going to be something special. The $90 million facility opened this summer in Idaho, and it uses 40% less water and 20% less energy than similar sized bakeries. Water is treated on site, with 100% of its energy needs generated at a nearby wind farm.
What makes the building particularly noticeable is its use of biophilic design, a fairly unusual design philosophy that aims to integrate nature wherever possible. ‘Biophilia’ is the term E O Wilson coined for the instinctive attraction we have to nature. It’s why walking through a park feels good, why we like beautiful natural landscapes, or keep pets. Research shows that an experience of nature, or even a view of nature through a window, can reduce stress and improve wellbeing. So biophilic design is a set of principles for architecture that connects us with nature.
In applying those principles to the Clif Bar bakery, the architects have maximised the use of natural light. There are windows, skylights, and where necessary, solar tubes that funnel light down through the building. In nature, the quality of light changes with passing clouds, or is dappled as we walk under trees. Opening up a building to the sky is the best way of replicating these sorts of conditions indoors.
Light isn’t static in nature, and neither is the air. Another principle of biophilic design is to allow for mild changes in airflow, humidity or temperature – the opposite of the carefully controlled air-conditioned consistency that is often found in offices. So Clif have big sliding doors in the building that open out onto outdoor patios, and the areas where staff take their breaks blend the outdoors and the indoors.
To provide views of nature, the building is surrounded by landscaped gardens planted with 570 trees and thousands of drought-resistant shrubs and grasses, incorporating habitats for bees and butterflies. There’s a walking trail and bike path for employees, a community garden, and lots of indoor plants too. Natural materials are used wherever possible, including reclaimed timber and local stone.
- For more on biophilic design, download this introduction from green design agency Terrapin.