Changes in the construction and building design industries are opening up new potential for the specification of wood.

The health and well-being megatrend is set to be one of the biggest factors in coming years, with a renewed focus on natural material use in homes, workplaces, healthcare facilities, education and a host of other environments.

How wood fits into this will be explored in TTJ’s Wood and Wellness Conference in central London on February 13, bringing together both the wood industries and construction/design/specification sectors at the Hilton London Tower Bridge.

Studies examining the positive impact that greater exposure to nature/natural products can have on health and well-being have highlighted impressive benefits, including increased staff productivity, improved learning, higher attendance rates, faster recovery from serious illness and a greater general sense of well-being.

The one-day TTJ event, is supported by a number of timber sector organisations – TRADA, the Timber Trade Federation (TTF), Wood for Good, Structural Timber Association, the Wood Protection Association and health and well-being web portal Work In Mind – and sponsored by James Latham, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and Accsys Technologies – the name behind Accoya modified wood.

Headline sponsor James Latham revealed last month how it was teaming up with the National Forest at the conference, with the latter presenting its efforts to reconnect people with trees and woods.

And the BWF has now come on board as a Silver Sponsor.

“The Wood and Wellness conference provides an excellent opportunity to share and discuss research on how the use of timber in a building can positively impact the way we feel,” said Helen Hewitt, BWF chief executive officer.

“The BWF is excited to sponsor such an event, especially as our own research found that homeowners are increasingly recognizing the important effect that the materials they choose have on their feeling of well-being and happiness, with almost half stating that natural materials in their home make them feel happier than artificial alternatives.”

Living lab at the shard

A conference case study will look at a groundbreaking project inside the UK’s tallest building – The Shard.

Speakers DaeWha Kang, of DaeWha Kang Design, and Dr Alex Morris, head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mitie, will together present the amazing Winter Gardens project based at the iconic Shard.

Facilities management giant Mitie has created a wooden beating heart in the skyscraper by fitting out several areas of its 12th floor offices with wood products as part of a “Living Lab” experiment to assess worker performance and well-being.

Survey results of Mitie staff participants revealed:

  • 38% more relaxed and calm compared to their normal office space
  • 10-20% more productive
  • 10.4% more happy by mid-afternoon

Bamboo plywood was used extensively in the project areas – the Living Lab workspace and Regeneration Pods, the latter providing staff with a tech-free, meditative moment in the workday. Fit-out specialist Aldworth, James & Bond fabricated the spaces.

“It was interesting to see how much the wood changed people’s experiences,” DaeWha Kang told TTJ.

Mr Kang said the design world trend linking health and well-being with materials would increase in importance in the coming years and mirrored what was happening among wider health awareness generally.

“This visual quality of the workplace can lead to fewer sick days and less staff turnover because people are happier. Ultimately, it will help companies to also save money,” he said.

Mr Kang set up his company with the vision to measurably improve health and well-being through design.

Winter Gardens project client Mitie, which manages buildings on behalf of large corporate clients, realised it was more efficient to use technology to monitor building performance and predict maintenance cycles, rather than having a handyman on site.

Crucially, it also realised there was a connection between building performance/ design and the happiness of staff.

“Improvement in facilities is there to make sure employees get their work done in the best possible conditions,” added Mr Kang.

Dr Marcella Ucci, senior lecturer in Environmental and Healthy Buildings at the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, advised on measuring the experiences of staff and presenting the results.

Mr Kang believes the timber industry has great potential to capitalise because it deals with a natural, attractive material.

“The industry has to align with the right credentials. That is supplying non-toxic products, benefiting from its natural material connections. The wood industry should definitely jump onto that.”

Great Opportunity

Another Wood and Wellness speaker is Dr Oliver Jones, head of research at Ryder Architecture, and a passionate enthusiast for improved health and well-being in building design and a self-confessed lover of wood.

“Over the last decade we have seen the average consumer become more health conscious, more technology and design literate, and more environmentally aware.

“Changing consumer behaviour has already acted as a huge disruptor in the retail sector, changing the face of our high streets and in turn our physical environment. The construction industry is now entering a similar phase of disruption with a renewed focus on healthy buildings and modern methods of construction,” continued Dr Jones.

“The biggest challenge facing the UK construction sector is raising the general awareness and understanding of well-being and building healthy buildings throughout the supply chain, so that all parties understand the physical and mental health implications of their decisions.

“Poor material choices often favouring cheaper synthetic products over natural materials present a huge challenge if we are to design healthier environments.

“Timber product manufacturers are well placed to take advantage of these market changes and to help deliver healthier buildings using modern methods of construction,” said Dr Jones.

“The opportunities are there for timber to become synonymous with healthy building but the industry and consumers will be watching closely, scrutinising material properties closer than ever.”

Conference speakers

Other presentations will see BRE research director Dr Ed Suttie summarise global research linking wood with health and wellbeing, while architect Oliver Heath, of Oliver Heath Design is to share his experience of healthy building design.

A case study on healthcare will focus on the prolific timber use at Maggie’s Centres, while Eleanor Brough, of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects will cover the award-winning Mellor School project in the education case study.

Panel debates will feature TTF managing director David Hopkins, Accsys Technologies’ head of sustainability Pablo van der Lugt, Meredith Bowles, director of Mole Architects, Dr Rick Wheal, principal of Elementa Consulting and Helen Hewitt, BWF CEO, with sessions led by Christiane Lellig of Wood for Good and Rupert Scott of TRADA.

Members of supporting organisations qualify for a special 25% discount.

Members can contact their membership organisation or TTJ for a discount code.

For more details on Wood and Wellness visit conference webpage here