Improving wellbeing with wood

With growing focus on the health and wellbeing of building occupants, including the emergence of the Well Standard, timber’s strong biophilia credentials are getting recognised, says Iain McIlwee.

Over recent years there has been a global movement to design buildings that are not only functional and practical, but that also aid the health and wellbeing of their occupants.

This involves considerations such as indoor air quality, level of light and colours used, as well as the role of biophilia.
Biophilia is the affinity that humans have towards the natural world. As the physical environment has become increasingly urban, the connection to the environment has deteriorated.

This is often seen in buildings where natural light, greenery and organic materials are replaced with artificial alternatives.
A study by business psychologist Robertson Cooper found that employee wellbeing was 15% higher in office spaces where natural elements such as plants and sunlight were incorporated.

Another study, by the US Green Building Council, concluded that buildings that incorporate nature-resembling colours, such as green, blue and brown, have a positive impact on wellbeing.

In 2014 the Well Building Standard was launched to validate buildings aiming to advance human health and wellness. Currently 708 projects across 32 countries have achieved the standard, including 22 Bishopsgate in London – the UK’s first Well-certified building.

The standard measures a building’s impact on its occupants’ health against several factors: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, mind and innovation.

Timber is one natural material which can encourage a positive biophilic response. For instance, a survey by the Wood Window Alliance (WWA) found that 47% of those surveyed agreed that having natural materials in their home made them feel happier than artificial materials.

In addition, a joint report by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and sustainability consultant SGS Search found that a WWA standard window meets the health elements required of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Standard Silver level.

This holistic design concept aims to create building systems that are efficient, healthy and essentially waste-free, and bans chemicals and substances that accumulate in the environment and lead to irreversible negative health effects.

A recent example of a project incorporating timber to promote health benefits is King’s School Worcester’s multi-purpose Bartholomew Barn.
Completed in 2016 to Passivhaus standards, it is based on Passivhaus patron Saint-Gobain’s Multi-Comfort standard, which focuses on thermal comfort, acoustic comfort, indoor air comfort and visual comfort.

The barn has a glulam structure, and timber enhances acoustic performance. Saint-Gobain says pupils describe the building as “light”, “warm”, and “modern”.

Iain Mcllwee is CEO of the British Woodworking Federation
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