Apart from the warmth and beauty wood displays, it contributes greatly to our indoor well-being. It is generally accepted that the objectives of sustainable design are broader than just environmental effects, and have come to embrace human health issues as well.
Living trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in its place, thereby reducing pollution considerably. Wood from those trees is able to retain that carbon dioxide and in doing so, plays an important role in improving indoor air quality.
We have known intuitively for a long time that humans have an affinity for nature and being in a natural environment—a forest, a park or simply our own garden—can make us feel more relaxed. The term ‘biophilia’ refers to this phenomenon. Scientists have now confirmed that this sensation of relaxation in the presence of nature is due to a reduction of stress reactivity in our sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
Using an approach known as ‘evidence-based design’ (in which detailed analyses of occupant responses to a building’s physical characteristics are used to inform the design of future projects), healthcare architects have begun to explore the physiological benefits of biophilia in the design of indoor environments.
This has led to the greater use of natural daylight, access to views of nature, and the introduction of wood and other natural materials. Wood in particular is visually warm and contributes to a socially positive experience for the building occupants. People respond emotionally to wood and are attracted to its visual variety and natural expressiveness.
A recent study carried out by the University of British Columbia and FPInnovations1 confirms the value of these attributes. The joint research project found that the visual presence of wood in a room lowers SNS activation in occupants, further establishing the positive link between wood and human health. Among the physical requirements for human health, wood contributes naturally to humidity control by absorbing moisture from the air when the humidity level in a space is high and releasing it when the humidity level is low.
Evidence-based design points to the use of wood construction, both as an interior and a structural building material, to promote health and well-being in health care facilities. In addition, schools and office complexes are partaking in the use of wood extensively to enhance productivity levels and the general well-being of the occupants.