The Nature of Wood – New publication available

9 March 2022

Terrapin’s new paper highlights the experiential and sensory aspects of wood as a building material and illustrates perspectives designers can use in material selection.

The authors, Bill Browning, Catie Ryan (both from Terrapin Bright Green) and Claire DeMarc (Catholic University of America), explore the range of perceptions that trigger in us a positive connection with nature that benefits our health and well-being.

While early research in biophilia focused on the responses to viewing and experiencing natural environments, desire within the industry for a more nuanced understanding of the patterns of biophilic design is driving research and design inquiry. The Connection with Natural Materials, and of wood specifically, is one such pattern.

Mass timber construction is gaining attention in the architectural world for its capacity to have significant benefits in reducing the embodied carbon footprint of buildings. An awareness of the physiological and psychological impacts of wood products and structures is also beginning to take hold. Most investigations into the biophilic qualities of wood are focused on responses to wood as a visual element within an interior space, but other sensory experiences have also been tested.

The new report from US-based sustainability consulting firm Terrapin, shows how informed material selection can transform how we experience and connect with spaces and places. By asking why we love wood, The report, entitled “The Nature of Wood” explores the science of having a ‘biophilic’ response to wood and highlights perspectives on how to think of wood in terms of optimizing design for the user experience. Led by Terrapin’s Bill Browning, the report was produced with support from the Forest Innovation Investment, Inc. of British Columbia and Softwood Lumber Board of Oregon.

Highlights from the paper include: 

  • Tactile, olfactory and visual experiences of wood
  • Color, groves and knots, grain and fractals and why they’re so interesting
  • Semantic processing and making sense of what we see in wood
  • Photographic examples of timber structures and interior spaces and wood species

This report traces the path from neuroscience and environmental psychology to building design. We hope to inspire you to tap into nature at your organization.

“We believe that biophilic design is the next transformative opportunity for companies looking to innovate and organisations looking to enhance health and wellbeing,” says  Bill Browning.

The Nature of Wood is available at:

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