An Interview with Joe Zazzera
Joe Zazzera is the founding principal of Plant Solutions Inc. His company designs, installs, and maintains living walls, indoor atriums, and corporate nature programs with an emphasis on biophilia. His mission is to create working environments which connect people with nature, enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, manage stress, and improve overall well being.
1. Where do you usually work? Describe your typical workday. I start out each morning with coffee and a short meditation looking out into the Sonoran Desert. One of my favorite parts of the day is watching and listening to the Sonoran desert wake up. Cottontail rabbits are usually the first ones out foraging just before sunrise. As the sun comes up, the quail, wrens and gila woodpeckers become very active. Although our company, Plant Solutions, has an office/showroom in Scottsdale, Arizona, I begin my workday at my home office.
2. What makes you happy at work? I really love new and challenging design work. Projects where we can stretch our design and engineering abilities in creating biophilic nature connections for our clients. The beauty of what I do is that each project is different than the last. As a creative person, I need to keep pushing for new solutions and be willing to take risks in getting to the final design. What makes me happy is to stand back at the end of a project, visually taking it in, and think about all the iterations it took to get to completion.
3. What do you think workplaces of the future will look like? Great question. A lot has been said about open office plans versus private spaces but I think (no matter which is preferred) one can easily make the argument that we simply do not have enough connections to the natural world in our work spaces. As the corporate world continues to embrace the financial benefits of nature in the work place, I think you will find many more intended natural elements, materials, pocket parks, outdoor programs and combined indoor/outdoor work spaces. Most will have natural daylight. At long last, designers are now actively using the “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design” in their design work. We are also seeing biophilic design as an imperative in design briefs. The opportunities and possibilities are endless.
4. It’s been said your garden designs ‘set the bar for extraordinary.’ Where is your favorite outdoor space? My parents moved us to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona when I was nine years old. One of the first places they took us was the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. Although I did not realize it at the time, I had a cathartic experience that day. The feeling of how connected I was with the desert never left me. This experience had an impact on me later in life; every time I am in the Sonoran Desert, I reconnect with that feeling. So I would say broadly that my favorite outdoor space is the Sonoran – I believe it is in my DNA.
5. Where do you feel most productive? I actually feel the most productive when I am on an installation and physically creating a project. I like to see results. When working on design or when in the office, it is easy to get distracted and decrease my productivity. I know overall that is not the case, but I really love being on the job site.
6. Where do you get inspiration while you’re at work? Many places! I am not inspired by one singular thing. I have surrounded myself with the things I love. Great art work, great interior office design, lots of nature and natural elements and more. I have also incorporated flexibility in my schedule when I am not traveling which leaves me options to get out or get inspired. My staff is incredible; they inspire and challenge me creatively. Often, they will ask me what I am thinking! It is inspiring to know that there are people around me that I trust to collaborate with.
7. Why is biophilic design important?
At this point in my career, not only is biophilic design important, I believe it is a baked-in function of great design that finally has a voice. The principles are innate. I no longer see any other path to design.
8. Of all the biophilic elements, what is the most important element that every good workplace should have? Without a doubt, day lighting.
9. What is an easy way for designers to begin to incorporate biophilic design into a space? Read and incorporate all of the literature available on biophilic design. Terrapin Bright Green’s “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design” is perhaps the best place to start. The citations will lead one to other literature. Also, trust natural instincts over contrived design. When things “feel” right at and innate level, we are usually on the right track.
10. What would your dream work space look like? I have a vision of a tiny home work space or a portable structure surrounded by nature. I think it would be fun to travel to all of the National Parks and work or write as I go, taking in the natural environment as a source of inspiration.