Today we are writing about the connection between wood and biophilic design.

forest canopy compared to wood design element

If you read our blog, you know that we are excited about biophilic design in commercial real estate. That’s why we’ve written about it here and here.

And if you are an architect – even an architect who doesn’t fancy themselves a biophilic designer – there’s a high likelihood that you have incorporated natural elements into your project designs. Every day we work with designers and architects who are leaning toward natural elements because people are asking for more nature in their spaces.

The research shows that they are healthier, smarter, and happier when we give them what they want.  The increase in health and happiness from biophilic design can lead to increased engagement, productivity, and talent retention which creates a positive economic impact in the workplace and in communities.

We often say that the goal is not to recreate a jungle –it is to recreate the effect that nature has on people. So let’s talk about one of the most natural elements in the world – and also one of the trickiest to incorporate into a project’s design: Wood.

The good:

person in a forest and wood architectural elements

Studies have found that subjects find wood in interiors to be warm, inviting, and relaxing; and have also found that wood features can bring about physiological benefits including reduced blood pressure.

Depending on its species and treatment, wood can introduce a connection to the outdoors through its appearance, textures, colors, and even smell. According to Senior Consultant Nash Emrich, “There are several unique properties of wood that make it a great biophilic design element. Starting with the most obvious – it’s a natural material, so people associate wood with nature. Wood has fractal patterns that occur in nature and rarely occur in manmade materials.”

Biophilic design demands multisensory engagement, just as all of your senses are engaged when you are in nature. So wood’s patterns, texture, and even its smell can be important.

wood grain and room with wood elements

There is nothing static in a natural setting. Natural environments are always changing. Even a view in one direction will change throughout the day. Wood shares this characteristic. You can have cohesion with the material and species, but you also get no two pieces that are the same, which is unlike most manmade materials. Even manmade building materials intended to have varied aesthetics often end up repeating that variance.

Wood can improve the quality of light in the space, which is an important part of biophilic design. We see a lot of wooden accents like acoustic panels that are framed in wood or wood beams and columns, which are a great way to incorporate wood in a ceiling or walls without being overbearing.

wood and natural light

And from a multisensory perspective, you are more likely to have a natural smell from real wood than from engineered wood and certainly from faux wood.

The Bad:

Wood paneling and wood walls might make you think of trees, but they don’t replicate the experience of being in a forest. Even in a heavily wooded area, there are visual breaks between trees that you don’t experience with wood paneling. Wall-to-wall wood may conjure the sensation of being in a mid-century basement instead of the sensation of being in nature.

Wood ceilings can also disrupt the biophilic experience. The sky is generally lighter than the ground, and it’s unlikely that a wood ceiling would echo that experience of a light sky because it’s generally a darker material.

Remember to keep it green when you use wood materials!

Solid wood and bamboo veneer can be inherently sustainable materials when they are made from renewable species, and with documented low-life cycle costs and a low carbon footprint. The ability to reclaim and repurpose wood materials is another factor in its positive environmental impact profile. Choosing FSC-certified products for the wood ceilings and walls can contribute to a building with lowered embodied energy.

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