The Soul Of Wood: Connecting With Nature Through Timber Design

The Soul Of Wood: Connecting With Nature Through Timber Design

The Wood’s Whispers

I’ll never forget the first time I truly connected with nature through timber design. It was during a visit to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore, a stunning healthcare facility that infuses biophilic design throughout. As I stepped inside, I was immediately enveloped by a sense of tranquility. The warm, earthy tones of the exposed wood beams and panels created a soothing atmosphere, their natural imperfections becoming the canvas for my wandering eyes.

I found myself drawn to a beautiful timber sculpture, its flowing curves and organic forms a captivating contrast to the crisp, minimalist interiors. The artist, Vince Skelly, had carefully selected this wood from fallen trees, preserving the unique character of each piece. “I try to highlight the natural imperfections in the wood as much as possible,” he told me, “because they give character and a place for the eye to stop and observe.”

Skelly’s words echoed the very essence of biophilic design – the innate human desire to connect with the natural world, even in the most built-up environments. As I explored the hospital further, I discovered more examples of this thoughtful integration of nature. Lush courtyards, cascading greenery, and the gentle flow of water created a harmonious dialogue between the indoors and outdoors, allowing patients, staff, and visitors alike to immerse themselves in the soothing rhythms of the natural landscape.

Rediscovering Our Roots

The human fascination with nature is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s a bond that stretches back thousands of years, woven into the very fabric of our existence. From the stylized animals of Neolithic GÃbekli Tepe to the acanthus leaves adorning ancient Greek temples, nature has long been a source of inspiration and reverence in architecture and design.

As I learned from my research, the Victorian era saw a shift in attitudes towards nature, as artists and designers pushed back against the perceived dehumanizing effects of industrialization. Figures like John Ruskin championed the inclusion of natural elements in built spaces, arguing that they could restore a sense of balance and well-being.

This sentiment echoes through the work of legendary architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie School contemporaries, who drew inspiration from the undulating forms and textures of the natural world. Even modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, known for their stark, geometric designs, couldn’t resist the allure of nature, integrating elements like water, wood, and greenery into their buildings.

The Science of Biophilia

But it’s not just a matter of aesthetics – the human-nature connection has a profound, scientifically-backed impact on our health and well-being. The term “biophilia,” coined by psychologist Erich Fromm and popularized by biologist Edward Wilson, describes our innate tendency to seek out and connect with living systems and natural processes.

As I discovered in my research, this connection manifests itself in a variety of ways. Cognitive function, psychological responses, and physiological reactions can all be positively influenced by exposure to natural elements, from the calming presence of water to the dappled light and shadow of a forest canopy.

Studies have shown that views of nature can reduce stress, improve mood, and even expedite healing. Immersion in natural sounds and scents can have a similarly restorative effect, lowering blood pressure and heart rate while enhancing concentration and creativity. And the mere presence of natural materials like wood and stone can elicit a sense of warmth, authenticity, and comfort.

Designing for Human Health

Armed with this knowledge, architects and designers are increasingly incorporating biophilic principles into their work, creating spaces that not only look beautiful but also nourish the mind, body, and spirit. Take the stunning timber roof at the Portland International Airport, for example. Crafted from regionally-sourced wood, the undulating canopy serves as a dramatic focal point, connecting travelers to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

According to the experts at Terrapin Bright Green, biophilic design can be organized into three key categories: “Nature in the Space,” “Natural Analogues,” and “Nature of the Space.” These patterns work in concert to create environments that not only look and feel natural, but also trigger the positive physiological and psychological responses that we’ve come to associate with our time in the great outdoors.

In the case of the PDX airport, the design team thoughtfully incorporated all three elements. The towering wood structure, with its exposed grain and organic forms, serves as a “Natural Analogue,” while the lush, biophilic landscaping and soothing water features create a “Nature in the Space” experience. And by strategically arranging these elements to foster a sense of prospect and refuge, the designers tapped into the “Nature of the Space” principles, evoking a profound sense of connection and calm.

Crafting a Holistic Approach

But biophilic design is about more than just aesthetics – it’s a holistic approach to creating healthy, sustainable spaces that benefit both people and the planet. At the PDX airport, the design team went to great lengths to source the wood locally and sustainably, ensuring that each timber component could be traced back to its forest of origin.

This focus on materiality and provenance is a hallmark of truly mindful design. By considering the entire lifecycle of the materials used, architects and designers can minimize their environmental impact while also imbuing their creations with a deeper sense of authenticity and place. After all, what could be more natural than the very elements that make up our world?

Of course, implementing biophilic design is no easy feat. It requires a deep understanding of human psychology, a keen eye for detail, and a willingness to collaborate across disciplines. But the payoff is undeniable – spaces that not only delight the senses but also nourish the soul, fostering a profound connection between people and the natural world.

The Timber Triumph

As I stepped back out into the Singapore sun, I couldn’t help but feel a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for the power of timber design. The Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, with its seamless integration of nature and architecture, had become a living, breathing testament to the transformative potential of biophilic principles.

And it’s not just healthcare facilities that are embracing this approach. Across the globe, from commercial office spaces to residential developments, architects and designers are finding creative ways to bring the outdoors in, weaving the soul of wood into the fabric of our built environment.

Perhaps the most exciting part is that we’re just scratching the surface. As our understanding of the human-nature connection deepens, and as sustainable building technologies continue to evolve, the possibilities for crafting truly restorative, life-affirming spaces are endless. It’s a journey of discovery, one that promises to enrich our lives and revitalize our relationship with the natural world.

So, the next time you find yourself in a space that makes your heart swell and your mind feel alive, take a moment to appreciate the wood’s whispers – the subtle reminders of our enduring bond with the natural world, and the promise of a future where the built and the wild exist in perfect harmony.


Get the latest updates on timber construction trends, sustainable practices, and exclusive offers from Timber Building. Subscribe to our newsletter for insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Stay Informed with Timber Building

Contact Us


Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.