Better buildings
December 17, 2020

Why Wood is an Effective Material for Schools

Many of our childhood experiences take place in school. Whether these memories are good or bad, most children and teenagers spend a majority of their days in classrooms or other educational facilities. According to IQAir, “every year, children spend an average of 1,300 hours in school buildings.”

Westview School interior

Westview Elementary School / KMBR Architects. Image © Ed White Photographics

But even as the world changes rapidly, and the internet in particular increases the accessibility of information, the design and operation of schools remain, in a way, outdated. As noted in a previous article, ideally the typology of educational spaces and the configuration of classrooms should suit more contemporary ways of teaching and learning, rather than the traditional organization of rows of desks facing a teacher at the head. But it is important that the analysis of educational facilities does not stop there. All surfaces and materials have a significant impact on both the well-being and learning of users.

Indoor environments

The connection between materials and human health

The design of indoor environments is of critical importance to human health—an intuitive conclusion that is also supported by a growing body of scientific evidence. In this previous article, for example, we observed how much deficient acoustics can hinder the knowledge acquisition process, interfering with attention and worsening the communication between student and teacher. Another factor of paramount importance is the quality of air in indoor environments.

According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) indoor air quality is an essential component of a healthy indoor environment and can thus help schools achieve their primary goal of educating children. Polluted indoor air—a far more common problem than many may think—can trigger respiratory diseases and even impair a person’s ability to perform tasks that require concentration, calculation, and memory. According to the same source, almost 1 in 13 school-age children have asthma, making it the main cause of school absenteeism due to chronic diseases.

Crawford Bay Elementary, Photo: Witmar Abele, KMBR Architects Planners Inc.

Resilient and versatile

Biophilic research and schools

For these and many other reasons, when specifying the materials for a new school or for the renovation of a school, it is essential to consider several variables that will contribute significantly to the quality of life of users. Various researches have shown that the resilience and versatility of wood make it a very suitable building material for schools and other typologies, helping create safe, healthy and inspiring environments.

One of the main benefits of wood is a factor very difficult to measure. Although it is widely accepted that material choice has a significant impact on the aesthetic quality of an indoor environment, the idea that it may be equally important for psychological reasons has not been proven until recently. Research carried out by the University of British Columbia and FPInnovations concluded that the visual presence of wood inside buildings helps reduce stress levels among occupants. This synthesis of global research summarizes the latest scientific research and converging trends on biophilic design. This makes wood use beneficial for potentially chaotic environments, though additional evidence indicates that there are other advantages as well.

Samuel Brighouse Elementary School. Image © Nic Lehoux. Courtesy of Perkins + Will