Reclaimed wood has always been a particularly appealing material but did you know it can enhance human wellness? Reclaimed wood has many benefits; its story-rich and can add a lot of character to any space thanks to its unique patterns and weathering. It’s also a green building material that contributes to sustainability in design, reducing the overall eco footprint of a built environment. These are the more obvious benefits of reclaimed wood, but this versatile material can also enhance human wellness.
With the growth of biophilic design, more architects and designers have been taking wellness into consideration. Materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are now often chosen over their more toxic counterparts, and elements like adequate ventilation and daylighting are also widely used. However, not all built environments are created equal. Many spaces are still taking ideas from the minimalist school of design, featuring sparse, bare areas. Whereas biophilia (which I’ll discuss in detail later on) posits that humans thrive from a connection to nature, this industrial minimalism detaches occupants almost completely from nature. As Metropolis notes, this trend of “biophobia” is at odds with the human-centric concepts of biophilia: “If this trend goes unchecked, the built environment will eventually become as unfit for human life as the natural environment seems destined to become.”
Of course, minimalism isn’t inherently damaging, but when taken to extremes––whitewashed offices and common areas with scant furniture––it can create an unhealthy relationship between occupants and the built environment. The hard lines and artificial lighting that minimalism promotes are not found in nature, and this can have adverse effects on everything from productivity to mental health. One case study from the Netherlands illuminates these disadvantages. An Exeter University professor visited a call center in the Netherlands, which he described as “a beautifully sparse environment.” When some greenery was introduced (one plant per square meter), employee performance on memory retention was bolstered.
So where does reclaimed wood come in? Simply put, it’s one of the easiest and most aesthetically pleasing ways of creating an environment that promotes wellness. Spaces that use reclaimed wood are consistently healthier for people than spaces without wood. In this article, I’ll take a look at some of the ways reclaimed wood can benefit spaces and enhance occupant well-being.
The Health Benefits of Wood
Before I talk about the specific effects of reclaimed wood, I’ll examine the wellness benefits that wood inherently brings to an environment. There have been many interesting findings in various studies that point to wood as an unusually health-forward building material. A report compiled by Australian nonprofit Planet Ark Environmental Foundation reviewed several peer-reviewed studies and discussed some amazing benefits of wood on the body, brain, and environment.
In regard to physical effects, wood serves as a de-stressor and has been shown to lower blood pressure. A Japanese study mentioned in the report examined 14 participants who were placed in rooms with either steel or wood paneling. The study concluded that exposure to wood paneling significantly decreased the subjects’ blood pressure while exposure to steel panels significantly raised it. Similar studies found the same results; wood contributed to lower heart rates and stress responses than environments with no wood.
The effects of wood on the brain are a bit more surprising: heightened social interaction and a more positive emotional response to built environments. Another Japanese study looked at how 44 elderly residents interacted with both wood and plastic products. The use of the wooden products was far more effective, resulting in more social interaction, improved emotional states, and positive self-expression. The research suggested that wood products may even mitigate mental and physical decline in elderly individuals. Of course, these benefits can be seen in people of all ages. The takeaway? The atmosphere that wood helps to create is extremely conducive to interaction and conversation. This is important for corporate offices and workspaces, as wood can be used to facilitate group projects and idea generation.
Finally, there’s the effect of wood on the built environment in general. It’s no surprise that wood can create a great first impression, but as it turns out, wood can help organizations improve the built environment for all occupants. Additional research by Dr. Yuki Kawamura of Sumitomo Forestry Research, indicates wood enhances relaxation during times of rest while allowing for greater focus during times calling for concentration. For corporations, this is a critical piece of knowledge, as using materials like reclaimed wood can step-up employee morale and promote a more focused, creative team. Specifically, prominent usage of wood in the workplace can boost productivity, improve crisis response, and increase overall cognitive ability in workers. In a healthcare or hospitality environment, wood can be restorative and enhance healing.
From Studios Architecture: Plenty of wood in a workplace environment contributes to employee wellness
Biophilia: Why Reclaimed Wood Is Superior
You’ve likely noticed that all of the studies above didn’t specify what kinds of wood were involved; they only looked at the overall impact of wood in general. So why spotlight reclaimed wood? It’s obvious that reclaimed wood will allow for all of the benefits mentioned, but in addition, reclaimed wood can deliver emotional connection and greater biophilic effect.
Reclaimed wood has a history and a story. Sometimes this story is provided in a plaque but even if it is not, the wood’s patina and markings convey its prior life; its usefulness and utility live on. The wood’s history enhances the occupant’s experience in the space in an authentic and meaningful manner. We all love a good story, especially when the story taps into our emotions. Occupants will connect with reclaimed wood and that connection will transfer to a brand or the employer.
The raw, weathered nature of reclaimed wood creates a uniquely direct connection to the natural world. While standard wood paneling can still be effective, reclaimed wood simulates the natural environment more closely, making it better suited for biophilic design. It implements many of the 14 patterns that Terrapin Bright Green outlines in its 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design report. For example, the wear, texture and patina of reclaimed wood create a connection to natural systems, reminding viewers of organic change. Unsurprisingly, reclaimed wood is excellent at generating a material connection with nature, and the right amount of wood––approximately 45% coverage, according to Terrapin––can create feelings of comfort and peace. (Higher amounts of wood create even more comfort, which is great for hotels but could be counterproductive for workspaces.)
From Daily Journal of Commerce: In the built environment, wood facilitates a strong connection to nature
The biophilic nature of reclaimed wood also makes for a better human experience. Since wood offers a host of physical and mental benefits, it enhances the experience of being in a space, an idea experience designers are focusing on. Enrico Dagostini at Perkins+Will reflected on the firm’s use of wood in Vancouver SkyTrain stations, saying, “By incorporating wood in transit stations, we are able to create a warm and inviting experience in these high-volume public buildings, and in turn, reduce stress for passengers and building users, while elevating the perception of the value of public investment in transit infrastructure.” With wood, commercial spaces become more personable and comfortable. The physical benefits of wood (i.e., lower blood pressure and reduced stress) translate into a more pleasurable experience, which in turn creates a strong desire in occupants to revisit a space in which they feel calm.
The Future of Reclaimed Wood In Building Design
Reclaimed wood is much more than a design choice; it’s a catalyst for human wellness in any kind of built environment. Reclaimed wood is surging in popularity as a building material. Additionally, it’s becoming less of an accent piece and more of a focal point, helping to create a stronger connection to nature. More businesses are realizing the importance of wood in built environments, the usage of which varies from industry to industry. Corporate offices can implement wood to improve productivity and morale, while hospitality spaces can use wood as an agent of relaxation in guests. Furthermore, any kind of business can incorporate wood to create comfort and encourage return visits. The possibilities are myriad, but at the core of it all, the focus is on human wellness. Reclaimed wood helps to make the built environment a better place for humans to be, and that’s always a good thing.