Wood performance

Wood is good for our health

Research is showing that incorporating wood and other natural materials into our buildings can reduce stress and contribute to good mental health. Bringing nature indoors through exposed wood and other natural materials can have a positive impact on our health.

Research is confirming what common wisdom has taught us—nature and the use of natural materials is good for us. Exposure to wood is correlated with a drop in cortisol, the primary hormone linked to negative impacts of stress. Similar studies observed lower levels of blood pressure and heart rate in an environment where wood is present, compared with one where it is absent. And in one study, participants’  focus, and concentration improved when asked to perform a task in a room featuring exposed wood surfaces.

Bold expressive wood structures can play a big role in biophilic design—a concept used within the building industry to increase connectivity to nature and natural materials. Expansive use of exposed mass timber to construct roofs, walls and floors can help do just that, while offering aesthetic, structural and environmental benefits. Similarly, the addition of wood finishings, fixtures and furnishings can also have a favourable effect.

Ts’kw’aylaxw Cultural and Community Health Centre | Photo credit: Ema Peter Photography, courtesy Of Unison Architecture Ltd.

Interior view of Ts’kw’aylaxw Cultural and Community Health Centre circular social area showing comprised of Douglas-fir glue-laminated timber (glulam) columns and prefabricated light wood frame panels

Wood, indoor health and comfort

When structural timber is exposed inside a building or wood is used for ceilings, furniture or fixtures it can contribute to a healthy indoor environment. In addition to wood’s natural warmth and appeal its distinctive organic properties can offer thermal benefits and a balancing effect on interior moisture and humidity. Since wood is porous, it absorbs moisture when humidity levels are too high and releases moisture into the air when humidity levels are too low. Wood’s relatively low thermal conductivity means it feels warmer to the touch than other building materials such as steel, concrete and masonry.

Vancouver Convention Centre West Building | Photo credit: KK Law

Sunny interior view of Vancouver Convention Centre showing multi-storey wall decoratively surfaced with vertical and horizontal board ends that protrude varying amounts
Loving Life

What is all this talk about biophilia?

The term biophilia translates to ‘the love of living things’ in ancient Greek (philia = the love of / inclination towards). Although the term seems relatively new and is a growing trend in the fields of architecture and interior design, biophilia was first used by psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, then popularized by biologist Edward O Wilson in the 1980s, when he detected how urbanization is leading to a disconnection with nature. In response, biophilic design incorporates natural materials, views to nature, abundant sunlight and greenery into a building to increase a sense of connection to nature.

Learn more about how biophilic design is influencing how we design and construct our buildings in our latest research report Wood, Well-being and Performance: The Human and Organizational Benefits of Large Wood Buildings, by Graham Lowe, PhD.

Biophilia and the nature of wood

Humans seem to have an innate affinity for nature—a phenomenon known as biophilia. This connection has become the subject of many research initiatives exploring how different experiences of nature affect humans both physiologically and psychologically, leading to the recognition that designing elements of nature into the built environment can have health benefits including stress reduction, improved cognitive performance, enhanced moods and increased preference for spaces. These benefits are often referred to as biophilic responses.

The nature of wood: An exploration of the science on biophilic responses to wood, a report by Terrapin Bright Green explores why we love wood. The Nature of Wood explores the science of having a biophilic response to wood and specific topics in need of more in-depth research.

The Nature of Wood Terrapin Report

How wood is transforming healthcare facilities

Wood makes health care facilities healthier, improving patients’ sense of well-being and recovery, according to several studies. Advancements in technologies, modern wood finishing and mass-timber products are making it possible to safely incorporate more wood into healthcare facilities.

This is translating into more welcoming and inviting facilities for patients and the professionals who spend long hours in these environments. When wood is incorporated into clinics and hospitals, patients report a more positive healing experience. Long-term care facilities are also using wood as a way to improve the health and wellness of residents. Biophilic design, such as abundant use of exposed wood and views of nature, improves recovery, reduces patient stress and may even shorten the duration of hospital stays, according to a growing body of research.

Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency Department And Critical Care Tower | Photo credit: Ed White Photographics, courtesy of CEI Architecture and Parkin Architects

Exterior of the Surrey Memorial Hospital

Can wood be a prescription for healthier hospitals?

British Columbia’s second busiest hospital used biophilic design when it came to a major renovation and addition to its emergency department. Visitors are greeted by tree-like wood columns, each consisting of four thick glue-laminated timber (glulam) ‘branches’ that extend from floor to ceiling and support a panelized atrium roof. Explore how health care facilities are using wood to improve indoor comfort and well-being.

Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency Department And Critical Care Tower | 
Photo credit: Ed White Photographics, courtesy of CEI Architecture and Parkin Architects

Putting wood to work in the workplace

Workplace design now goes well beyond occupant comfort and is embracing biophilic design that can help employees thrive. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of biophilic design and timber-built architecture, with research suggesting it can boost employees’ morale, productivity and sense of well-being.​

In one survey of 1,000 workers, the presence of wood in the workplace was positively correlated to lower absenteeism and higher job satisfaction. The more that wood was featured, the more employees found the workplace pleasant and felt connected with nature. Workers also reported better concentration, more optimism, less stress and greater productivity when their office included exposed wood.

In another study, wood interior design was associated with higher satisfaction. One room had extensive wood interior finishing, while the other was devoid of wood. The rooms were otherwise similar. People in the room with wood finishing were more satisfied with lighting, noise and temperature. Participants described the wood room as bright, pleasant, modern and warm.

Beyond workers’ preferences for wood, increasing the wood surfaces in an office is linked to measurable reduction in stress. In one study, the use of wood was correlated with decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. And wood can contribute to stress reduction or recovery from stress, according to a growing body of research.

Overall, this research suggests that wood can give a measurable boost to wellness in the workplace.


B.C. companies find inspiration in wood

From offices, industrial spaces to hospitals and retail environments, more and more organizations are incorporating wood and other natural materials into their design. From expressive wood structures to furniture and finishings, see first hand how B.C. companies are bringing wood and a sense of nature into their workplaces.

Commercial office space | Photo credit: Leckie Studio Architecture + Design

How biophilic design is reinventing the classroom experience

Wood is making the classroom a place where students want to learn. As the understanding in biophilic design continues to grow, architects are rethinking school design—from elementary to college-level—by incorporating more natural materials, such as wood, along with views of nature and better access to the great outdoors.

Integrating wood into schools in British Columbia can create ties between cultures and reinforce traditional and regional values, including the significance of wood in local Indigenous traditions. For small communities where schools also serve as gathering areas and community centres, this is an important expression of cultural and ancestral heritage.

Using wood can also be part of a green building and nature-oriented design strategy for schools. The restorative benefits of nature on mentally fatigued adults and children is being established through an increasing number of studies. In one experiment, 94 high schools students randomly assigned to classrooms with views of greenery performed better on concentration tests than those assigned to or blocked view or windowless classrooms. And in  multiple studies of children, contact with nature is linked to greater emotional intelligence and environmental citizenship.

Westview Elementary School | Photo credit: Ed White Photographics

Interior daytime image of low rise Westview Elementary School entrance and two story multi-purpose area complete with students, glue-laminated timber (glulam) beams overhead, and wood accents throughout

More and more schools are using wood to create inspiring learning environments 

From elementary and secondary schools to colleges and universities, wood is making the classroom a place where students want to learn. A growing body of research suggests that biophilic design, exposure to nature and the use of wood and other natural materials can have a positive, impact on children and school design. A Japanese study surveyed teachers and students to measure their impression of wood versus reinforced concrete. Both groups had similar, favorable impressions of wood schools over concrete. Results also showed that teachers and students in wood buildings felt less fatigue, and that students perceived schools with larger areas of wooden interiors to be brighter than concrete interiors. Another study in Austria, found that interior wood use in classrooms reduced pupils’ stress levels, as indicated by criteria that included heart rate and perceived stress from interaction with teachers. Explore how wood is contributing to healthy, inviting schools in B.C., from preschool and elementary to post-secondary facilities.

Photo credit: Michael Elkan Photography

oN5 top floor mass timber floor panel being flown in
oN5 Building

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small children sitting on a floor of a classroom
Bayview Elementary School

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Fast + Epp Home Office Exterior at dusk.
Fast + Epp Home Office

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Three students and a teacher working at their desks in a classroom with exposed wood walls and ceiling.
wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School (Formerly Sir Matthew Begbie)

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