Water & Wellness...This Is Your (Happy) Brain on Negative Ions
Updated: Sep 21
How water features help improve tenant experiences by making the brain feel good and creating a connection to nature
The word of the day at the recent Bisnow Office Leasing and Development Conference in San Francisco? Wellness. Panel participants agreed: Wellbeing has become the focus for recruiting and retention. Nearby, the newly opened Salesforce Park provides an excellent example. Its meandering 1000-foot-long water feature, known as a "dancing fountain," jets water upwards whenever sensors feel the buses rumbling below the park level. The dynamic fountain corresponds to the number and speed of the buses, triggering 10 jets at a time.
Yes, water features can improve tenant experience because of its therapeutic qualities, acoustical properties, and connection to nature. Water—and especially moving water—makes humans feel good. The late Dr. Marion Diamond, professor of human anatomy and neuroanatomy and a brain researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, reported that moving water creates negative ions, which energize the brain by suppressing serotonin (responsible for making us feel drowsy and lethargic). No wonder we feel good under a waterfall or in the shower! Conversely, windowless and closed rooms with limited fresh air create a dismal experience. Turns out the surfers in the crowd had it right.
Water also conducts sound well. In fact, its conduction properties are significantly greater than air. That's good news for property owners who may contend with unpleasant ambient noises such as traffic, a nearby airport, or loud doors. By installing features such as fountains that conduct their own sound of moving water, landlords can both create a sense of wellbeing and mask a variety of environmental detriments and distractions for tenants.
Finally, in a commercial real estate world concerned with sustainability, water features underscore a building's connection to nature. Jeanne Meister of HR Advisory and Research reports, "access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of the workplace environment." Of course, it helps when the water feature contains green features in and of itself: circulating water, gray water usage, etc. Today’s water features trend away from arching dolphins and plump cherubs and lean instead towards abstract designs, sometimes amplified with lights or changing water directions...the fountain as environmental art. Although he completed it in 1939, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright may have led the wellbeing way with his design of the Pennsylvanian house Fallingwater, noted for its innovation.
Of course, water features can present challenges in the form of maintenance and utility costs. Even with recycling, water usage can increase due to evaporation and—oh, no, a property manager's nightmare—leaks. That makes warning features for failing equipment important. Further, functional equipment helps prevents the diseases that stagnant water can create.
My own firm managed an office campus with a spectacular outdoor fountain that shot a huge stream of water upwards, a dramatic vertical climb that fell into a large pond. Beset by faulty equipment, on some days the fountain spray would shrink to a dribble. At the time, the tenant's stock value had plunged to a new low. Its real estate department, tongue in cheek, suggested that we tie the water height to the stock price, thereby resolving the fountain problem and communicating stock market news to campus arrivals in one fell swoop. (Who says facilities people don't have a sense of humor?) Instead, we corrected the equipment. Twenty years later, the pond still creates a majestic entrance to the company's corporate headquarters.
There are many other components to employee wellbeing, of course, but "water, water (nearly) everywhere" seems a fine start.