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Tropical hardwoods: A heart for the forest and the people living in it

Swimming against the tide, Dutch architect Boris Zeisser specifically uses tropical hardwood extensively in his buildings - from interior design to structural applications. In his interview with Wood for Good he explains why this is so important to him.

You use tropical hardwoods in a variety of applications including structurally. What inspires you to do so?

We try to use as much organic and natural building materials as well can in our designs; for ecological reasons but also for the look and feel that it will give our designs. It makes the ‘touchability’ of the spaces high and natural materials age nicely over the years.

Wood is one of the easiest to use materials in this and hardwood gives us the best quality and variety. Because there are so many different species, you can make an endless ‘palette’ of tones and structures.

We carefully select the different types with our clients, because they are such an important part of the atmosphere of the building. The quality, soft lines, elegant colours and strength of hardwood but also the option to use it untreated on outside cladding and structure help us make buildings with lively and natural feels, without having to use paint or other additions.

As we like to expose the structures in our designs and have them ‘make’ the character of the spaces, it really helps if we can make them out of hardwood as well, so they become part of the ‘palette’.

How do you ensure the material comes from sustainably managed forests?

We demand in our tender specs that all wood used in our designs are either FSC or PEFC certified and we like to work with wood suppliers that we know have a heart for their forests and the people living in it.

What are your recommendations for architects who would love to use tropical hardwoods but don’t yet dare to do so? 

  1. Go look at examples and compare color and structure with softwoods like larch or pine. You can do this at buildings but even more exciting is big wood suppliers. I go to some in Belgium that are incredibly inspiring, many hectares full of different trees (cut or not cut).

  2. In my office I have a box with 50 different wood types so I can pre-select and show to my clients all kinds of variety, a good tool to have.

  3. There is the discussion on sustainability of using hardwoods. Aren’t we cutting down the rainforest and our oxygen supply? Well, I look at it like this: A man has a family and a forest. To feed his family, he can cut a tree and sell it to build a house in return for replanting a tree, so he can feed his family and we keep forests alive. If he cannot sell his tree, he will cut down his tree to have cows, whose meat he can sell - all CO2 producers instead of carbon absorbers. I think we need to use tropical hardwoods to save the rainforests!  


Find out more about Boris Zeisser and his use of tropical hardwoods here

Check out our case studies on tropical hardwood and learn more about sustainable procurement.

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