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In creating a direct connection to nature, wood ceilings and wall systems can boost occupant health, well-being, and productivity

There is no question that a walk in the park, the fresh air, and the sun’s warmth on one’s skin surrounded by grass and trees is a refreshing, positive experience.

Driven by a growing body of research proving the physical, physiological, and emotional benefits promoted by connections to nature, architects and designers are actively incorporating natural elements, particularly wood, into their designs….Wood is exceptional at sound absorption, temperature, and humidity control, and can offer hypoallergenic qualities in many cases. Wood interiors are easily recyclable and are therefore sustainable.

Wood is also a multisensory material, capable of influencing four of the five basic senses: touch, smell, sight, and sound. Jennifer Walton, principal and corporate studio director at H. Hendy Associates, Newport Beach, California, points out that wood:

  • Represents a celebration of local materials, helping humans connect with the nature surrounding the built environment inside the building.
  • Provides a connection to craftsmanship—a sense of human touch instead of machine-made products.
  • Is pliable and can be shaped to represent the rhythm of natural materials through organic expression.
  • Matures and changes over time, giving people a sense of time that helps shape human life and behavior.

In a similar vein, Peggy Bennett, IIDA, LEED AP, associate vice president and director of commercial interiors for Hoefer Wysocki in Kansas City, says that wood does an excellent job of creating a sense of place to localize commercial interior design through site integration, which prioritizes the use of materials that are native to the area.

In integrating wood ceilings and walls while keeping biophilic principles of recreating nature in mind, Emrich advises selecting light-colored species. “The sky is usually brighter than the ground, even on a cloudy day, so a dark wood ceiling can be counterproductive, depending on the desired space usage and occupancy type,” he says.

It is not uncommon for wood ceiling designs to create the impression of a tree canopy, suggesting a sense of shelter, warmth, and protection.

For the walls, he recommends wood as an accent or trim. “When you are in a forest, you will never see a blanket of wood—there are breaks between the trees and visual cues like foliage in the depth of field,” Emrich adds. “The wood in nature is broken up, and wood in biophilic design should similarly offer visual breaks.”

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