Reclaimed wood is a truly popular and widespread design material. Many consider it to be a staple of contemporary design. Few other building materials are as versatile and as durable as reclaimed wood. It can be rustic or elegant, and welcoming at the same time, and it works well in any space.
Many of the world’s top architects, or “starchitects,” have put their own spin on using reclaimed wood in the built environment. These designers are challenging the notion that reclaimed wood is merely a design trend. As a result, reclaimed wood has become a favorite for designers around the world who aim to craft sustainable, biophilic spaces that are unique, memorable, inviting, and healthy. If you’re wondering why reclaimed wood is a go-to choice for starchitects, look no further. Here are 10 reasons why acclaimed architects and designers are opting for reclaimed wood.
1. Reclaimed wood is one of the most biophilic building materials
From TerraMai: Reclaimed wood enhances the biophilia of any indoor space
Biophilic design is an important part of present-day Architecture & Design. This builds upon the biophilia hypothesis that states humans have an innate desire to be connected with nature. Biophilic design is accomplished in large part by reflecting the natural world in the built environment. Reclaimed wood is one of the best building materials for this purpose. Wood provides numerous benefits to occupants, and post-consumer reclaimed wood is especially beneficial due to its added character plus natural appearance. In contrast to new wood, reclaimed wood has had time to weather and develop a patina. Many designers agree that reclaimed wood looks and feels much more organic, which is largely why it’s such a popular material choice.
2. Starchitects prioritize sustainable building materials
Along with biophilic design, sustainability is a priority for many architects and designers today. Professionals in the field are realizing that a certain degree of environmental responsibility is assumed when initiating a project. To conserve resources and safeguard the planet’s future, sustainability measures are critical. Green building standards like LEED Certification are guiding the way, and the world’s best architects are raising the bar for sustainability in the built environment. That’s why many of the world’s best A&D firms (including Perkins+Will, NBBJ, and Gensler) are being recognized for their outstanding sustainability practices that often go above and beyond building standards like LEED.
Building materials play a large part in sustainability. While materials like luxury vinyl tile have made a splash, many designers are opting for reclaimed wood because it’s one of the most sustainable materials in existence. That no trees need to be unnecessarily cut is perhaps the biggest advantage of reclaimed wood. Reusing and repurposing resources is another. There are energy savings as well. The transport of reclaimed wood consumes far less energy than the processes associated with harvesting and processing new wood. Furthermore, there are several methods by which companies may reclaim wood, making reclamation repeatable and scalable. There’s never been a better time to use reclaimed wood in a commercial project.
3. Reclaimed wood provides health and wellness benefits
Biophilia doesn’t just connect humans with nature; it bolsters their health. Indeed, numerous studies have found direct connections between reclaimed wood and improved health, and the benefits are astounding. One of wood’s best benefits is stress reduction. Environments with wood contribute to lower heart rates and help reduce stress much more significantly than environments without wood. Wood has also been shown to promote emotional and mental well-being, leading to boosted levels of social interaction and positive self-expression. In office settings, wood additionally optimizes productivity and collaboration (see #4 on this list).
Reclaimed wood is unique in its ability to simultaneously create visual appeal and augment human health. Architects and designers are constantly seeking to build environments that maximize occupant health, and reclaimed wood is a simple and natural method of providing these invigorating biophilic benefits.
4. Reclaimed wood enhances performance
In commercial settings, it’s clear that improving performance means creating the best possible conditions for workers, and that includes optimizing workplace design. To that end, many starchitects are using biophilic principles in office design. Naturally, the use of reclaimed wood is becoming increasingly common in today’s workspaces. Reclaimed wood helps to foster a positive indoor environment where workers can feel their best. In one study, participants were presented with images of 10 corporate offices. Five featured wood prominently, while the other five had no wood at all. The study concluded that wood positively impacted first impressions and generated feelings of innovation and comfort. The offices without wood were categorized as impersonal and uncomfortable.
Wood not only creates a more comfortable atmosphere but also improves Indoor Environmental Quality, which in turn sharpens focus. This effect is magnified when reclaimed wood is used in concert with other biophilic elements like natural light, greenery, living walls and clean air. Thus it’s common to see sustainably designed offices that incorporate multiple elements of nature, resulting in a workspace that actually facilitates work and boosts performance.
5. Experiential design is becoming more important
From TerraMai: 923 Folsom Apartments creates an experience through a strong sense of place using reclaimed wood (and bikes!).
There’s a plethora of innovation happening in the Architecture & Design industry. One of the more prevalent ideas to emerge lately is experiential design, a field that prioritizes human interaction in the built environment and connects occupants to a brand. An experiential space should engage people by creating deep emotional connections. The philosophy at work here is simple; when people enjoy a built environment, they enjoy it because of the experience they receive from being in it. This simple yet powerful idea has spurred a new school of architects who are reimagining what design should be.
From Graham Baba Architects: The design of Artefact’s Seattle headquarters creates an experience that immerses occupants in the Artefact brand
Every detail matters when it comes to experiential design, including material choice. Reclaimed wood is renowned as one of the best materials for experiential design because it is evocative and tactile. When reclaimed wood is present in an environment, it draws the eye and provides a multi-sensorial experience. Everything from the color of the wood to the nature of the grain contributes to this experience. Furthermore, there’s a timeless experiential nature present in reclaimed wood. Interior designer Sara Gilbane lists reclaimed wood as a classic of design: “Ikat, zebra, sisal, jewel tones, reclaimed wood, and bold color are all trending but they are classics and will never go away.”
6. Commercial spaces and reclaimed wood complement each other
Reclaimed wood may have become popular due to its widespread residential use, but it’s a perfect match for commercial environments. A&D professionals around the world agree that today’s commercial spaces need to prioritize human wellness. As OPEN Architecture’s Li Hu puts it, “We need more buildings that put people first. The spiritual needs of people, not just the financial needs.” The often-cited statistic that states people spend 90% of their time indoors underscores the need for optimal commercial buildings.
Since reclaimed wood boasts numerous biophilic benefits, it’s an excellent material choice for any type of commercial environment. It also complements the ample amounts of mixed metals that are common in commercial spaces. This is amplified when reclaimed wood is used for urban offices. Pittsburgh designer John Malecki knows this connection well: “I use the story of the reclaimed materials that I like to use and implement the industrial vibe of the city.” In short, reclaimed wood can at once reflect local surroundings and help people feel and perform better.
7. Reclaimed wood accomplishes aesthetic architectural goals
In every project, architects and designers seek to fulfill specific aesthetic goals. While these vary depending on the architects’ ideas and the nature of the space, aesthetic goals typically include commodity, comfort, and visual interest. Reclaimed wood effortlessly accomplishes all of these objectives and many more.
As I mentioned above, wood fosters feelings of innovation and comfort, while the lack of wood comes across as uninviting. Wood also contributes to the perception of built environments as particularly habitable. This all ties in to the biophilic power of reclaimed wood. Because it’s an organic, evocative material, it generates positive emotions.
8. Progressive building certifications and reclaimed wood go hand in hand
As architecture has become more conscious of both human needs and the environmental impact of building, certifications like LEED, Living Building Challenge and WELL have become part of mainstream Architecture & Design. Earning certification from programs like these is a goal that many companies and designers seek to achieve.
Simply using reclaimed wood helps to fulfill many green building standard and biophilic requirements. Green building certification programs have raised the bar and awareness. Reclaimed wood provides sustainability, enhances the built environment for occupants and has minimal ecological footprint making it ideal whether or not certification is the goal. Of course, the wood should be purchased through a reputable company and when possible FSC Certified.
9. Reclaimed wood increases Indoor Environmental Quality
Considering Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) is critical to building human-first spaces. IEQ encompasses many elements, including air quality, lighting, and dampness conditions. Reclaimed wood helps by storing carbon, helping to purify the air. However, it’s vital that wood finishes with low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are used. This will prevent hazardous chemicals from being released into the environment. At TerraMai, we use only zero and low-VOC products, finishes and flame retardants.
10. Reclaimed wood helps to achieve intentional environment
You may not be familiar with the term intentional environment, but this concept is changing the way we see design. The idea behind intentional environment is building spaces that enhance health and promote a holistic experience. It’s analogous to biophilic design, and indeed the two philosophies often overlap.
Intentional environment builds on ideas collectively known as Building Biology, which prizes environmental protection, social responsibility, and energy efficiency. So reclaimed wood is an obvious material choice for designers focusing on intentional environment. Reclaimed wood also improves clarity, another tenet of intentional environment, resulting in spaces that help people work and live better.
11. Durability and longevity are hallmarks of reclaimed wood
From Ankrom Moisam Architects: Reclaimed wood can easily withstand even the most demanding commercial usage
Finally, one of the major reasons why starchitects opt for reclaimed wood is sheer durability. Post consumer reclaimed wood has often aged significantly, which causes it to be denser and thus stronger than new wood. This is why old-growth wood is in such high demand. While old-growth timber is scarce, reclaimed wood provides an avenue for architects to enjoy the benefits of older wood without the disadvantage of cutting down endangered trees. Many commercial settings require materials that will endure heavy duty use, and reclaimed wood fits the bill perfectly. You might also consider naturally resilient woods such as reclaimed teak and oak for ultimate endurance.
Reclaimed wood is much more than a design trend. It’s a powerhouse of sustainability, biophilia, durability, and aesthetics. That starchitects the world over are choosing reclaimed wood over other materials shows how useful and beneficial it truly is. Firms like HOK are using reclaimed wood in new and innovative ways that create unforgettable experiences for occupants no matter the type of space. Offices, hotels, retail stores, and institutions are all benefiting from reclaimed wood.
If you haven’t considered using reclaimed wood for your commercial space, I highly recommend giving it a look.