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Wood for healthy buildings

You might have heard about forestry bathing – a Japanese practice that simply involves immersing yourself in the calm and quiet amongst trees and observing nature to encourage relaxation and boost health and wellbeing. But did you know that these same feelings and experiences can be achieved through use of wood in design in our spaces?

Wood for Good and BE-ST (Formerly Construction Scotland Innovation Centre) supported the first of a series of events from the Transforming Timber project on health and wellbeing in the built environment in May 2022.

The Science of Healthy Buildings

The first webinar focused on the science of healthy buildings, looking at the science behind biophilic design and the techniques required to create a space that enhances users’ wellbeing.

We were delighted to have Bill Browning, Elina Grigoriou and Tabitha Binding present about the principles of biophilic design and discuss how we can use user profiles and experiential mapping to identify where use of materials like wood can enhance occupants’ wellbeing.

Wood = alive

Bill Browning, who is a prolific strategist, author and speaker on green buildings and biophilia, and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, spoke about a recent paper they’d published, The Nature of Wood: An exploration of the science of biophilic responses to wood. The paper outlines the research behind why humans love wood as a material. He explained that we subconsciously link wood as a material to trees which we then link to being alive and nature. But researchers have also proven that the smell of wood can produce a calming feeling, and that the repetitive patterns of woodgrain are pleasing to the brain. It seems inherent to us that the colour, feel and texture of wood as a material would be pleasing to users but this research puts scientific evidence behind this.
Bill Browning explaining experiential mapping

Understanding users is the key

Both Elina and Bill drove home that understanding what occupants desire and want to use a space for is crucial when designing a healthier space. Elina, founder of Grigoriou Interiors and well-known wellbeing expert, author and speaker, took us through some of the processes she uses to identify what wellbeing means to a user. Wellbeing is unique to every individual and the way that they approach their design reflects this.

Healthy buildings in a healthy world

Tabitha Binding, Head of Education and Engagement at Timber Development UK (TDUK), asked the question, can we truly have healthy buildings if they aren’t also contributing to a healthy planet? This is definitely an area where wood is undeniably the best solution in the built environment. In addition to helping lower the embodied carbon value of a building, timber and natural materials in the built environment can help with regulating temperature and improving air quality for occupants.

Creating Healthy Buildings

 The second webinar took this key learning and science and showed how it could be used in practice. We invited speakers who had worked on projects that specified wood for its biophilic properties to talk about how they approached the specification and design of the projects and share tips! 

Engineered timber fits the brief

Andy Heyne from leading engineering firm, Heyne Tillett Steele (HTS), in London explained that they've seen a huge rise in popularity for engineered timber. They can't be certain of why clients are suddenly specifying so much timber but at HTS they explain the value that exposed timber can have on a room. HTS have recently created a new office space for their firm, and it showcases wood beautifully. Andy explained that people can't help but run their hands over the wood on the walls! He also spoke about the ways that timber can help engineers in reducing their carbon impact as well, which is just as important to the health of occupants. 

Case studies galore

David Storring of architects, Morris + Company, delighted viewers with four beautiful case studies that showcased a range of timber materials and design techniques and properties that enhanced users' wellbeing. Wood was specifed on these different projects to produce feelings of calmness and relaxation but also to improve acoustic performance and connect users with nature. 
David Storring talks us through some case studies

Building classrooms of the future

It was wonderful to have Beverley Quinn from the GenZero team walk us through their research project. GenZero is a classroom prototype designed to enhance the learning and wellbeing of users whilst being a flexible classroom space and connecting people with nature through natural materials. Beverley explained how they came up with the specification from the client-side which provided a contrasting viewpoint to other speakers.  

More information

If you missed the webinars, you can catch up on both via Youtube. Links to both are below. 

We've also linked to a number of useful resources from our speakers below. 



Wellbeing in Interiors: Philosophy, design and value in practice

Nature Inside: A biophilic design guide

The Nature of Wood: An exploration of the science on biophilic responses to wood

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