Does it really have to feel this bland? This drab? This dreary? If you’ve ever visited a healthcare facility, chances are you felt these thoughts.
The one type of environment that should feel the most calm and nurturing so often feels the opposite.
Thankfully, a miracle cure exists – Wood.
Wood has the unique ability to transform a space, making an otherwise cold, stark, even unhuman, environment feel warm and welcoming.
Studies show wood possess a near miraculous ability to calm the nervous system and settle the mind. The presence of wood in a space has been shown to help lower blood pressure and heart rates. Studies have also shown people report more positive psychological and emotional feelings of well-being in spaces that feature wood.
Most directly in this case – studies have shown patients recover more quickly in environments that feature wood and natural materials. (See below for citations and further reading.)
These wood benefits also extend to the classroom and the workplace – where students and workers perform better, and report feeling better, in spaces that employ wood.
The psychological and emotional design qualities of wood naturally translate to other sectors, such as retail and hospitality. Shoppers and guests who feel more welcome, at ease and overall better in a retail or hospitality space are shown to stay longer, spend more and leave with more positive brand associations. These positive brand associations then carry over to online shopping and reviews, long after a patron has left a space.
At the heart of all these wood health benefits is one core attribute – one elemental feature that is unquantifiable but also undeniable – wood is simply beautiful to the human eye.
Wood is also naturally noise dampening and warm to the touch, qualities that further appeal to the human senses and offer a welcome relief from the cold, clanging, harsh finishes typical of so many medical spaces.
The healing power of Beauty to the human mind and body is well established, yet somehow often ignored or shamefully disregarded.
While it’s easy to make sport of the sad state of healthcare design (bare vinyl floors, pharmaceutical-beige walls, steel surfaces and a Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1997 anyone?), the ramifications become profoundly serious when one considers the full scope of what transpires and can ultimately be at stake in these environments on a daily, hourly, basis.
This is where wood can make a real difference.
Thankfully, many architects and designers share this realization. TerraMai has had the opportunity to work on a diverse range of smart, thoughtful healthcare projects with firms like Perkins&Will, CollinsWoerman, Abramsom Architects, to highlight just a few.
These designers all took advantage of wood’s unique ability to infuse warmth and beauty into the healthcare environments they designed.
Medical environments can be the setting for some of the most stressful conditions imaginable (even unimaginable). It’s fair to say, people simply deserve to be in a space that feels warm and comforting when facing these life-altering challenges. Not just the patients, but also the patient’s family and loved ones, along with the doctors, nurses and staff who also grapple with extreme stress and traumatic circumstances in these environments.
When considered in this light, the true essence and power of architecture and design flash to the fore. The power of design to affect how we feel in a space is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in a healthcare setting. And wood, perhaps more than any other material, can positively affect how one feels in a space.
In a year that has forced a special spotlight on medical facilities, a new awareness of these environments has emerged. As designers rethink their approach and look to new projects, wood remains perhaps their most useful, effective, versatile – and beautiful – resource.
With all this considered, the unique power of wood as a miracle cure for stark, bleak healthcare environments is a saving remedy.
Matt Nichols, TerraMai VP of National Accounts – Western U.S.
Resources and further reading.
Zelenski, J. M. & Nisbet, E. K. Happiness and Feeling Connected: The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behaviour 46, 3–23. (2014).
Zhang, J. W., Howell, R. T. & Iyer, R. Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology 38, 55–63. (2014).
Munir, M.T., Pailhories, H., Eveillard, M., Aviat, F., Lepelletier, D., Belloncle, C. and Federighi, M. Antimicrobial Characteristics of Untreated Wood: Towards a Hygienic Environment. Health, 11, 152-170. (2019).
Browning, W., Ryan, C. & Clancy, J. Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health & Well‐being in the Built Environment. (2014).
Anme, T. et al. Behaviour Changes in Older Persons Caused by Using Wood Products in Assisted Living. Public Health Research 2, 106–109. (2012).
Wolf, K.L. “Trees in the small city retail business district: comparing resident and visitor perceptions.” Journal of Forestry 103, 390–395. (2005).
Pakarinen, T. “Success factors of wood as a furniture material.” Forest Prod J 49(9):79-85. 1999. As cited in Nyrud, Anders Q. and Bringslimark, Tina. “Is Interior Wood Use Psychologically Beneficial? A Review of Pyschological Responses Toward Wood.” Wood and Fiber Science V.42(2): 211. (2010).
Fell, D. R. “Wood in the Human Environment: Restorative Properties of Wood in the Built Indoor Environment.” University of British Columbia, Vancouver. (2010).
Health and Well-being: Building Green with Wood Module 6. 1–4 (reThink Wood, 2015).
Ohta, H. et al. Effects of redecoration of a hospital isolation room with natural materials on stress levels of denizens in cold season. Int J Biometeorol 52, 331–340. (2008).
Welker, C., Faiola, N., Davis, S., Maffatore, I. and Batt, C.A. Bacterial Retention and Cleanability of Plastic and Wood Cutting Boards with Commercial Food Service Maintenance Practices. Journal of Food Protection, 60, 407-413. (1997).
Wahlgren, K. A Look at Sustainable Harvesting in a Hardwood Forest. Wood Floor Business. (2005).
National Report on Sustainable Forests. United States Department of Agriculture | Utilization of Harvested Wood by the North American Forest Products Industry, Dovetail Partners, Inc. (2010).
Oswalt, S. & Smith, B. U.S. Forest Resource Facts and Historical Trends. United States Department of Agriculture. (2014).
Bringslimark, Tina. “Is Interior Wood Use Psychologically Beneficial? A Review of Pyschological Responses Toward Wood.” Wood and Fiber Science V.42(2): 211. (2010).
Tsunetsugu, Y., Miyazaki, Y. & Sato, H. Physiological effects in humans induced by the visual stimulation of room interiors with different wood quantities. Journal of Wood Science 53, 11–16. (2007).
Dementia and memory loss statistics. Available at: https://fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia-and-memory-loss/statistics. (2014).
Kelz C., Grote V., Moser M. “Interior wood use in classrooms reduces pupils’ stress levels.” Retrieved from http://proceedings.envpsych2011.eu/files/doc/342.pdf
Bergman, R., Gu, H., & Falk, R. “Using Reclaimed Lumber and Wood Flooring in Construction.” (2010).
Human Spaces. “The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace.” (2015).
Browning, B., Garvin, C., Fox, B., & Cook, R. “The Economics of Biophilia.” Terrapin Bright Green. (2012).
Toochi EC. Carbon sequestration: how much can forestry sequester CO2?. Forest Res Eng Int J. 2(3):148‒150. (2018).
Ulrich RS. “Aesthetic and affective response to natural environments.” Pages 85-126 in I Altman and JF Wohlwill, eds. Behavior and the natural environment. (1983).