The crossroads of aesthetic and sustainable design objectives has always piqued my interest. Aesthetics are not limited by sustainability but it is interesting to view sustainable design as a way to achieve certain aesthetic objectives. Eco-friendly building design is mainstream thinking in the Architecture & Design world, and that juncture offers exciting opportunities to create breathtaking buildings. In this article, I’ll examine how reclaimed wood allows designers to realize their aim of creating beautifully green buildings for the twenty-first century.
How Reclaimed Wood Achieves Environmental Goals
To appreciate the ways in which reclaimed wood contributes to sustainable design, it’s important to review the tenets of sustainability. The Whole Building Design Guide’s site lists six fundamental principles of sustainable design: optimization of site potential, optimization of energy use, protection and conservation of water, optimization of building space and material use, enhancement of indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and optimization of operational and maintenance practices.
Optimization of site potential refers to the relationship between a building and its location. Site selection, energy consumption, and renovation of old or historic buildings all fall under the umbrella of site potential. Conveniently, reclaimed wood can help any building maximize its site potential in many areas. A noteworthy use here is to decrease energy use, which is also the second key principle of sustainable design. According to the American Forest Foundation, wood improves energy efficiency. It even stores carbon, which can also increase IEQ. Reclaimed wood also boasts the distinct advantage of being sustainable throughout its lifecycle. Sourcing reclaimed wood uses much less energy and than new wood. Reclaimed wood contributes to geographic, historic, ecological and cultural connection to place based on its story, sourcing location and eco contribution.
From Canadian Architect: The Head Office of STGM Architects optimizes its site potential with reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood also helps optimize building material use. The WBDG emphasizes focusing on long-term sustainability, especially when it comes to materials. Sourcing new wood as a Construction & Demolition (C&D) material requires considerable resource consumption and chemical production. On the other hand, the processes involved with reclaimed wood emit fewer toxins into the environment, save living trees, and prevent usable wood from being landfilled.
From OTJ Architects: Using reclaimed wood is an easy way to improve IEQ
IEQ enhancement is yet another benefit of reclaimed wood. IEQ is defined as “the quality of a building’s environment in relation to the health and wellbeing of those who occupy space within it.” In other words, IEQ can be thought of as a reflection of a space’s biophilia. Reclaimed wood comes in handy here as well. IEQ is determined by a plethora of factors, many of which can be optimized by using reclaimed wood. For example, there are benefits like increased social interaction and productivity associated with reclaimed wood use and typically reclaimed wood is finished with products that have zero or low amounts of VOCs. Contaminant levels can be minimized by selecting reclaimed wood providers who are committed to using finishes, fill or adhesives with low concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As a result, occupants will be exposed to fewer contaminants, and their health and performance levels will be bolstered.
From Chadbourne & Doss Architects: The implementation of reclaimed wood can boost IEQ in any built environment
In short, reclaimed wood is an environmental win. That’s why Architecture & Design firms from all over the world use it extensively especially when working to achieve WELL, Living Building Challenge or LEED certification standards. From workspace floors to hotel walls, reclaimed wood provides builders with an easy route to more eco-friendly design. The work of A&D firms like Perkins+WIll, Roman & Williams, and CallisonRTKL further demonstrates that reclaimed wood is one of the most useful sustainable building materials. And it’s not just good for the earth; it’s also a flexible design tool.
From Roman & Williams: The Breslin in NYC uses post-consumer reclaimed wood flooring sourced from a ranch in the Pacific Northwest
Reclaimed Wood and Aesthetics
The study of aesthetics in architecture first began in ancient Rome with Vitruvius, and there’s still plenty of lively discussion happening today. While design aesthetics have been reimagined and challenged over the years, the same basic tenets remain. The three factors that Vitruvius mentioned––commodity, firmness, and delight––still comprise the backbone of design. Many modern aesthetic principles come from such influential architects and designers as Louis Sullivan, who famously posited that “form follows function” and Frank Lloyd Wright who modified Sullivan’s phrase to “form and function are one”.
The WBDG points out that successful aesthetics in architecture means utilizing an integrated approach, which should result in a space that “achieves useful, humane, and economical results, and…expresses those qualities regardless of style.” Reclaimed wood can realize all three of those goals and thus act as an agent of aesthetics. In Design and Aesthetics in Wood, architect A. Quincy Jones examined the reasons behind wood’s aesthetic popularity, noting that people think of spaces with wood as more habitable than spaces without. Wood is instantly familiar and can lend a sense of welcome to any built environment.
From DTW Architects & Planners: The Duke School in Durham, NC leverages the aesthetics of wood to evoke feelings of warmth and positivity
Recently, this concept of aesthetics has been pushed even further. Now, designers need to not only pay close attention to industry trends but also construct inspired environments that reflect their intended purpose as well as their natural surroundings. This is biophilic design in action. Biophilic design aims to create spaces that connect its occupants to nature and, in doing so, improve their health. Many Architecture & Design professionals have been using biophilia as a way to achieve aesthetic goals, and reclaimed wood is a widely used biophilic building material that engages occupants in many of the 14 patterns of biophilic design.
From Architectural Record: Biophilic design provides universally pleasing aesthetics that satisfy natural human needs
What’s so special about reclaimed wood is its ability to create an aesthetic that is at once natural and contemporary. It simultaneously reminds occupants of the environment and brings forth association with high-end architecture. Post consumer reclaimed wood reflects its age through its unique visual character that’s different with every piece, and in this way, reclaimed wood installations tell a story all their own. The distinct type of weathering that reclaimed wood undergoes and the natural patina it develops over time are beautiful in ways that virgin wood cannot match. Other methods of reclaim wood sourcing, like orchard salvage, industrial fall down or water reclaimed can allow for a clean aesthetic or a unique look.
From TerraMai: Reclaimed wood in the fitness center and commissary areas produces a pleasing aesthetic at Toyota’s North American HQ
It’s easy to see why reclaimed wood is a modern designer’s dream building material. It’s not only sustainable throughout its lifecycle but also capable of fostering a refined aesthetic. It’s become more important with the growth of biophilic design, and it will continue to be a vital part of Architecture & Design as a whole. When looking for materials that are both sustainable and visually pleasing, reclaimed wood delivers on both fronts.