Architecture, the designing of buildings, it is an admirable profession. In our modern world we zip in and out of all sorts of built environments every day, our homes, offices, shopping malls, gas stations, medical offices, the list is nearly endless. Therefor the skillful design of a space that is user friendly, safe, and appealing is a trade that is seldom considered yet very regularly utilized.
Residential design is targeted toward comfort and ease. The design of public spaces must be more focused on the end use of the building. It is easy to find comfort in the cozy confines of our homes or the homes of our friends and family. It is the hour’s spent in medical office buildings, court houses, schools, and other public institutions that make many people uneasy. Shuffling in uncomfortable chairs, surrounded by bright lights, echoing sterile hallways, glass entries, these places can be unsettling.
Much has been written on the subject of color choice and the effect that different hues have on the human mind. Going a step beyond that lets look at the materials used and the tones and textures that natural elements such as; wood, stone, and water can contribute to an environment.
If you are a designer or architect you should be familiar with the biophilia hypothesis. Edward O. Wilson wrote a book on biophilia and defines the hypothesis as “the (human) urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” It is thought that this urge is a product of biological evolution. Stephen R. Hellert further concluded that “Human dependence on nature extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance to encompass as well as the human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction”
Studies have been conducted which have concluded that the incorporation of natural elements in built environments have a positive effect on the intelligence and cognition of school age children, the health of the elderly, and generally reduces stress and anger. These same studies suggest that natural elements in built environments can also restore energy and well-being. For these reasons it makes sense that building materials such as wood and stone should be considered for public buildings. If the organic warm tones of natural wood on a wall, floor, or ceiling can elicit such holistically positive reactions from the people that interact with the space it should be used in both interior and exterior design of public and private spaces.
Wood should be utilized more frequently in the design of “high anxiety public spaces”, medical offices, government buildings, entertainment venues, and educational and correctional institutions. Quite often these spaces are designed in a contemporary style due to the fact that the straight lines and pure color pallets common to contemporary architecture are comforting; in the same way that wood is comforting.
Many of the building materials often used in contemporary design can create a sterile feel. Wood has such a tremendously warming quality that wood elements used in juxtaposition with steel, concrete, and glass have the effect of warming the overall space. This is due in part to the neutral color and organic texture of wood, but also because of biophelia.
Dr. Stephen R. Kellert is the Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His Yale profile states that His work focuses on “understanding the connection between nature and humanity with a particular interest in environmental conservation and sustainable design and development.” He explains that “human dependence on nature extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance to encompass as well the human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction.”
(Read Dr. Kellert’s Yale Profile http://environment.yale.edu/profile2/kellert )
Because humans have a biologically based affinity for nature they tend to be drawn to pockets of nature in urban settings or natural elements in public buildings. Wood is an engaging surface. The texture has a way of being predictable yet organic and interesting. As the world’s primary renewable building material informed people should feel positive about the environmental impact of the material. People also consciously or subconsciously acknowledge our physical dependence on the photosynthesis of tree’s processing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Some might say that the human affection for wood in décor and design might trace back to primitive days when living trees served as shelter, fuel, weapons. From the simple aesthetics of beautiful wood grain to more intellectual and insightful truths about wood as a healthy and responsible building material, there is no denying that wood is a good option for a finish treatment from a psychology of design point of view.