Sustainable Design

Occupant Environment

The term biophilia describes the instinctive connection and attraction people have to natural materials, and many building designers cite the warm and natural attributes of wood as a reason for its use.

Evidence also suggests that the use of natural materials can contribute to an individual’s sense of well-being, productivity and even health.

For example, a study at the University of British Columbia and FPInnovations found that the presence of visual wood surfaces in a room lowered activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is responsible for physiological stress responses in humans such as increased blood pressure and heart rate while inhibiting the parasympathetic system responsible for digestion, recovery and repair functions in the body. The study immersed 119 university students in one of four different office environments, some with wood surfaces and others without. Stress as measured by SNS activation was lower in the wood rooms in all periods of the study. The study concluded that wood is one way to create a healthier built environment.

Study author David Fell says that research on wood and schools is underway, but the results of the office study apply to any interior environment. “The stress-reducing effects we found for wood in office environments are in theory transferable to any building type as these are innate reactions to natural materials.

By extension, we would expect the application of wood in schools to contribute to lower stress activation in students and teachers,” says Fell. “Any built environment activates our sympathetic nervous system to some degree. From a biological/evolutionary perspective we are adapted to functioning in nature. By adding natural elements back into the built environment these stress reactions can be reduced.”

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