biophilic

The Biophilic Impact of Timber Construction: Nurturing Health and Well-Being

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

Today’s video dives deep into the intersection of health and architectural design, highlighting the impact the built environment has on our wellbeing. Our speaker explores the compelling question: What enables good health? And, how can we shape the spaces we inhabit to promote better health outcomes?

A key concept discussed in the video is Biophilic Design – an often overlooked design philosophy that seeks to connect our built environments more closely with nature. This approach is based on the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes, known as Biophilia.

The video delves into how Biophilic Design can transform our buildings, from schools to hospitals to workplaces, into living, breathing spaces that not only serve their functional purpose but also contribute to our physical and psychological health.

One significant aspect is the idea of “enriched environments” – spaces designed with elements such as variety, vitality, a sense of occurrence, optimism, nature, and authenticity. These environments are not just visually appealing; they stimulate our senses, provoke our curiosity, and create atmospheres that we have both physical and emotional reactions to.

Our speaker uses practical examples from his own work to demonstrate these concepts, showing how they can be applied in real-world architectural projects. These case studies illustrate how architecture can contribute to ecological, social, and physical health and even what our speaker refers to as “mind health”.

The Biophilic Impact of Timber Construction: Nurturing Health and Well-Being

Video Transcript

Well, good morning and it’s nice to spend some time with all of you. What I want to do is spend some time talking about the things that I’m wrestling with and we’re wrestling with in the firm. Before COVID, but now I think probably even more importantly, with the conditions that we’re finding ourselves in.

COVID is the question is: What causes health? And I think we in the age of COVID, we think of our frontline workers and we’re excited about them, about keeping us safe, and we’re banging our pots and celebrating. But I think the realization that I’ve come to, that really they can’t do it on their own. It’s really not their job on their own.

And I see that I’m based in Toronto, based in Canada, but this stat from the New York Times is worrisome. That says that here, you know, there in the United States, that a significant amount of the people in that country have chronic conditions that put them at serious peril from COVID. And if I look at that, in the stats compared to Australia, they’re quite similar.

And you look at these stats from the number of people that have either one, two or three chronic diseases, which COVID loves. And then if we translate this into where we are in our health care spending, I think this is very similar to Australia. You look at three quarters of what we spend in the budget, the government spends, is around chronic diseases. But also things that are linked to our lifestyle.

And that has really led me to the quest that what we should be focused on is clearly to eradicate the virus, but equally how could we eradicate hospitals as we presently know them, as they presently exist? And what I mean by that, they’re not just dealing with the episodic events that come in, like COVID, but the 75 percent that relate to lifestyle or arguably how we are designing, zoning and creating our communities around us.

And that’s really the basis that hospitals, I believe, are for repairs or the episodic things that come along. But the thing that I’m wrestling with is: What causes health or true health? And I’ll define that in a minute.

We talk a lot as architects in the design community about high performance buildings, which is usually about mechanical systems and about the envelopes. But I wonder about how do we create high performance buildings around our abilities to thrive and grow?

And do we have the ability as architects, designers, clients and owners to tune space or adjust space? And it’s tied to, for me, this German word which is really about the atmosphere, the subtleties, the mood about space that we have a physical and emotional reaction to.

And that reaction is very important because it has a relationship to our ability to learn, to absorb things. And it also, as clearly we know, has a relationship to you and me and our social interaction and our ability to engage in ideas and thoughts and thinking.

And that really ties back to this idea: How can we activate health, cause health, as opposed to stop disease or bad things from happening? And that ties to the title of the thought and the research that I’m involved with around this concept of enriched environments.

So what I’d like to do is lay out the theory of enriched environments – eleven elements of enriched environments. I’d like to then frame it really around the relationship of design and design’s impact on ecological, social, physical and what I’ve deemed mind health.

I’d like to define what I believe health is, as opposed to sort of a pathogenic view. Talk a little bit about an analogy of architecture as food that sustains and nourishes us. And then I’d like to give you a few examples of these enriched environment elements based on our work.

So there’s some amazing research that’s out there. This back from the 1950s, that a guy on the west coast in UCLA looked at rats that were in enriched environments and ones that were in stimulating environments performed better in the way they solve the tests that were given to them, as opposed to rats that were in engaged environments.

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If you look at that, also another study in the 1960s from University of California Berkeley, it said that rats that were in stimulating environments, not over-stimulated environments, that their synapses that connects the neurons within the brains, we’ve got this from the studies that I’ve been going through, it increased the stimulation synapses by 25%, really quite a remarkable statistic.

This then moved into some other information, really interesting for me around cognitive reserves, which is really about the idea of your brain as a muscle and strengthening that. That they looked at people that had no signs of dementia that were very active, but when they did an autopsy after they died, found that they had advanced Alzheimer’s.

And they caught tied this back to the ability of the brain to create reserves. And they linked that specifically to the environments of which they inhabited, they spent their time.

The research also is fascinating for me because it also looks at the opposite, that if you’re in environments that deprive the stimulation, not over stimulation but just the nurturing of your brain, that it impairs cognitive development, really quite a remarkable research.

This went up – this is from the United States went to the Supreme Court, and it looked at these people that were in solitary confined confinement, one specifically for just shy of 30 years, for all but one hour a day in a windowless prison, no interaction with anybody. And what they found is it damaged the hippocampus, which is at the very bottom of the brain, and it’s responsible for spatial orientation, emotion, memory.

And effectively by doing that, what it did is, it began to – if you look at your brain as if it’s like a plant – it withered and faded away, quite remarkable. The similar evidence is the same for newborn babies, if they’re deprived, if they’re away from their mothers and neglect, same thing happens.

So what that leads me to try and put together is: What does that mean in relationship to the environments that we inhabit, where we live? Great evidence from the Polytechnic of Milan, which I have some involvement with the guys there. If you’re in very small apartments during COVID, no balconies, the levels of depression are quite significant. What about our learning environments that are windowless or where we work?

If you take the same evidence and you translate it into our built environment, so the question is: What happens? What if health, true health, was the basis of judging every environment of which we inhabit?

What if we were, as architects, clients, professionals and public bodies, dedicated to creating environments that enhanced and caused and stimulated health? And what happens if by doing this, the public equally would not tolerate, which I’ve termed dis-ease, in the sense of uncomfort, depression, and in fact boredom and the numbing of our minds?

What is very clear to me is there is no such thing as neutral space. What we create either causes health or in fact it limits our ability to thrive, that is economically, socially, culturally and certainly environmentally. So the question is: Why is that relevant to us within in the field that we work and what’s the relationship of it to in fact the way we create our communities and build our cities and our towns, and more so as we move forward?

Well, what we do know is that the way we design things has a significant impact on environmental health. That’s really the first lake of a four lake stool or a table that supports optimized health. The second one is clearly societal health. And we know the way we build things has a significant impact on the health of our communities.

And arguably, I would say that the whole Black Lives Matter movement that’s come out, a lot of the issues about the communities, the separation and the segregation, has been created by bylaws and design that our architectural community has created.

Clearly, our physical health has a significant impact on the way we design, where we live. I mean the whole idea of food deserts. I would argue that in fact they’re food swamps, that there is so much terrible food that’s available to certain people that is terrible for their outcomes. And the design community clearly, as you know, has had a significant bubbling to the surface.

And there’s no shortage of challenges or systems or standards or guidelines that begin to address some of these issues.

And I would sort of argue that it is become more close to it becoming a standard of care. For example, I don’t go to my clients and ask them do you want the off-gassing carpet or not. So we’ve begun to evolve in that direction. But I believe that that to some degree is really beginning to focus on the hardware of who we are.

And it isn’t focusing as much on the operating systems, back to the neuroscience side of things that I’ll get to in a minute.

And that has a relationship to the interceptive, our perception of the inside of our body, the properceptive, which is around the things around it, and the extraceptive, which is really we have an extraordinary ability to sense all of the environment, the physical environment around us, and certainly that of which we create. And that has a relationship really to this idea of mind health.

And I’m saying that as mind health as a muscle as opposed to really is often deemed mental health.  And there’s this emerging body of research and partnerships between neuroscientists and architecture.  The University of Venice I think is arguably the leading place of research. 

There’s another one the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture in Southern California which is another extraordinary body.  They have a conference coming up in September which i’ll be presenting at. But what that’s looking at is that we have cognitive reactions to our space. But we also have these pre-cognitive reactions that arrive before we realize it.  And they have a physiological as well as a psychological reaction into our bodies. A physical response. 

A reaction that has an emotional and a chemical reaction.  And I want to really frame that in really the you know the research. In the evolutions of us as well as the mammals before us our ancient brains were really focused on these things that were really around survival – seeking fear, rage, lust, getting food, worried about somebody eating us, rage and attacking somebody, or lust about reproducing.

And that’s that’s evolved from when there were single cell organisms that were just really around survival.

The the evolution into reptiles which was really back to that seeking rage, fear, lust side of things. As we moved into mammals, we had the emotional reactions around play and and grief that began to evolve. And further, as we moved into the the level of being a monkey, and this was interesting because it was really about the idea of nurturing that evolution into nurturing and caring for children, about the social bonds, and and the guilt beginning to build communities.

And then into the Neanderthal time which power and influencing our surroundings and our emotional responses to that. And more so to our our more recent um family members that moved into really that sophisticated development of language and thinking and acting in figurative arts and painting, as we know certainly in Australia which I’ve painted, I’ve visited the cave painting religious, and certainly our built environment as significant. But that began to overlay really another more significant range of emotions.

And those things had a relationship to our perception of wellness and well-being. In this sort of larger sphere of what’s known as background positive bodily feeling, um ah lightness, freshness, relaxation, and and these other elements beyond just the the four basic elements.

But if you look at that full range, and this is uh one theory around the constructivist theory of emotion, that up and down there’s arousal arousal from very calm to very activated from one side, really to the happiness to the unpleasant that discuss really to the serene and content.

And so the question is, can we begin to tune those elements? And we know there’s a whole range of things, physiological and psychological, that shape our emotions.

And clearly our there are relationships, experiences, cultural societal symbols, um biological reactions. But clearly all the evidence in the science and in the neurological overlay pushes towards the environmental influence on our sense of of well-being and what health is at the end of the day.

And so that then I’m going to move into what my definition is and perception of of health is. And so I’m going to hold on to your seats, I’m going to cover about 5000 years of the perception of what health is and try and put it into a larger context, or at least my context.

And so where we are in the last hundred years, I believe is in a zone that’s more pathogenic, that’s focused on diseases and what causes disease, as opposed to salutogenic. If you don’t know the word, I’ll get into it a little bit, you should look it up. But really relates to a holistic idea psludo health and genic or genesis on what causes health.

We have in the in the last hundred years been in a zone that’s focused on preventing bad things from happening, proactive maybe, opening us up and looking inside, predictive now, beginning to to say you may have the odds of something bad happening to you.

I’m interested in what actually activates something good that happens in your health, as opposed to stopping something bad. It’s a different sort of focus. The environment has a significant impact on that, and that’s the way it was five thousand some odd years ago ago around uh ancient Chinese medicine. It was this idea of of creating harmony really in our lives.

The ancient Greeks, Aristotle, a really amazing idea around utamonia. If you don’t know it, it’s worth getting your head into. But these ideas of flourishing, let’s tie both to ethics, philosophy, the grandfather of of uh one would argue medicine Hippocrates wasn’t just about disease but was really about the idea of diet, lifestyle, and our environmental health.

Continued on into the Romans, really the whole idea of bringing in fresh water aqueducts, uh the fantastic public bus and the sewer systems that then moved into this period.

And if you look at the list of items that are that are on the slide, these things are all coming back to our our daily lives and our practice and our ability to engage these things – naturopathic uh medicine, uh the idea of homopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, herbalism are all back.

That then took us into a time in the mid 1800s, in fact very similar to where we are right now, the pendant pandemics, three of them cholera that went through London like a lot of the parts of the world. This guy Jon Snow began to understand what spread disease, and that was really the foundations of understanding germ therapy in the in the third quarter of the of the 1800s. But what that began to do was develop the basis of evidence-based western medicine.

And that began to tie into something that I would argue is a watershed in the last five thousand years of our perception of health and well-being, which there was this Carniv Carnegie report, the Fexter report came out in 1910 that effectively said to all leading medical centers that if it wasn’t evidence-based western medicine, all of the Chinese medicine, everything before it, that was all effectively witchcraft.

And we pitched out all of that thousands of years of our understanding of well-being to a very very narrow perception of what health is, which has dictated us for the last hundred years.

That paralleled also with the rise of chronic disease, the tsunami of chronic disease that came into western society. And it was significant because it had a relationship that we weren’t moving anymore, we are driving more, more tobacco, the quality of our food had changed, the whole things that we designed like the suburbs.

And if you looked at in medicine terms, it would be called a common source epidemic, not particularly different than what we’re facing right now. But in the late 60s 70s suddenly, you know, this wellness movement came back, remember some of you, Jane Fonda spandex, and the whole rise of exercise movements, the videos that everybody watch, not particularly different than the videos that we’re seeing now or or the live streaming that came back into our consciousness.

Then Antonovsky, if you don’t know him, again this is the guy that coined the idea of saluted genesis, that’s been translated into slutogenesis as it relates to architecture by Alan Dilani, a friend of mine from Stockholm.

But really the idea of the sense of purpose, meaningfulness, manageability is the key determinant to positive health outcomes. Wellness has then gone mainstream in the really the last 20 years or so, both in the workplace as well as all leading academic medical schools have shifted back to integrative medicine, which is really the foundation of the last 5,000 years.

Look at the statistics of who’s getting into the wellness economy, look at all the technology providers, this sector is growing exponentially, you know, 3.6 uh compared to the annual growth rate. It is the future of where we are going and back to this idea is how do we accelerate health at the end of the day.

And back to the idea of what’s the relationship to what we build and create as societies to really the activation of this right hand side to the diagram of taking some of these unpleasant sides and how can we use space as a tonic to enhance health and accelerate optimal health.

And the question is, what’s the role of what we do as architects, policy planners on changing and shaping our public environment? And so to illustrate that, what I want to do is use the idea of food architecture, is like food as a metaphor to really to to further sort of fill this out as an idea.

And so the idea that our our environments, they nurture us and and they enhance and and enrich not only our minds but our bodies and and however you want to define spiritual health at the end of the day, or they do the exact opposite. And I think the word starve isn’t um uh is is appropriate uh for the discussion. And a lot of the spaces that we occupy are like empty calories and they lead us empty in a very short short period.

And what I mean by that is is you know if we were together, I would say to you and and ask you you know what you see on the screen, and everybody says well tie of course it’s a hamburger, I mean what do you think it’s uh it’s a it’s a burger. And and I say well in fact it it’s not a hamburger, really what it is, it this represents a lot of the places where we live, where we work, where we heal and where we learn. It’s transactional, meaning it’s functional.

So this burger is amazing, it’s it’s functional in the sense that you don’t need a knife or a fork, you don’t need a plate to put on it, you can just hold it with your hands, it gives you protein, it’s got a little crunchy, you know it’s got a little color with the mustard as you can see. But what it does is it doesn’t give you any more than it’s asked, and arguably what it will do is leave you empty within an hour.

In fact, I think with a variety of the sodium and other things.  It will leave you worse off at the end of the day. And I think that’s very similar to a lot of the places we built. 

We say they need to be functional butt hat’s it. And they don’t offer any more and that’s different as we know from a lot of the super foods that we’re aware of.  Like the little blueberry, they’re packed with all kinds of mineral and vitamins that are extraordinary to our bodies, our minds and everything else. 

And architecture uh the basis of our research there are super vitamins that are out there that we can intentionally add to the places we inhabit.  And that’s back to this elements, this idea of stimung about creating these atmospheres.  And in fact i think you can think of them almost as if spices that we begin to add that may be like earthy or nutty or sour, every bitter that we all interpret indifferent ways.

But they are very intentional and they create a specific mood that they tune the space around these constructive human behaviors.  And they have a relationship to moving towards some of the positive side of the equation which then begin to enhance our relationships, memory and other things. 

So those elements at least the way the the elements of enriched environments – these are the ones that I’m defining through the research and I’ll walk you through that right now. So they’re around the idea of variety, vitality, sense of occurrence, optimism, nature – it’s sort of a primal one, this idea of solid stillness, intimacy.

I think is probably no more important now, authenticity, generosity. Think of generosity of spaces that we’re in, or the opposite like the transitional space. But let me walk through them with some of the examples of the work you can see, what you think.

So the idea of variety and vitality, I think it’s very important. So this gets back to those primal issues of seeking and curiosity, being able to enhance that idea, that sense of discovery of the spaces that we begin to occupy. This, you can see the bridge that you, the curve, you can’t see the end, you want to see what’s on the other side.

This is similar to a hospital, about a hundred thousand square meters that we’ve built. You can see the primary spaces, they face south, they begin, they face the sun, they curve around to the end. It’s not sort of a straight axial line, but that idea of discovery, sense of looking. The stair is exactly the same, that your perspective begins to move as you go up the stair, you begin to discover different sites and views as you move up.

On a very similar, on a much smaller scale, this is a COVID rapid assembly inpatient hospital that we’ve been involved in with COVID. You can see sort of the clear story up above, the main staff working areas, the patient recovery areas. It’s a very, very dense floor plate, but the characteristic is this clear story in the middle with the rooms on the side, staff areas on the other side. It’s very dense and planned.

The clear story area up above, tying back to wood, it’s built of these CLTs, in fact the world’s first cross-laminate timber blocks. They’ve been developed out of Canada. You can use them, obtain them anywhere in the world.

For me, it’s a very exciting development because it uses no glue. It’s tied together with these metal strips, mechanically fastened in a press with pressure. You can make over a thousand these in the span of an hour using this sticky metal, tying it together like a metal velcro, and it creates these things are absolute precision with the same qualities of a CLT, the same strength and performance as a concrete block, and the same ability to stack up and simplicity as a as a lego block, no mortar.

And it’s a game changer because we know the labor is the primary cost in building. There’s no labor that’s around us this thing requires no skill. This whole week where the company is assembling them on five different properties.

And what’s important about the rapid assembly in a very simple building, very dense that we’ve seen in a lot of, you know, these dark cavernous spaces on the COVID buildings, it’s the important thing with these with a clear story, back to the variety and vitality, is while you’re lying in the bed, conscious or not, you can begin to look out of the window, and that’s important both for staff and for the patients because it begins to connect you with the change of seasons and time and day as opposed to being an environment of which you’ve lost sense, and any hope for for a normal sense of of our life.

And so that variety and vitality as an important element of rich environments for a large environment or a small one. This idea of sense of occurrence, this in the example of a learning environment venues where you feel engaged in.

And it, this is a school that we’ve just opened. We’ve bent it into a curve, this is the main lobby that you you walk in, the glue glam beams, nail laminated deck, tree-like structures. So the whole idea of of of light, change of season, and this really passing of time. Over the span of really about three hours, but that sense really at the end of the day that we’re alive, and the sense that that we’re alive that’s translated by the environments of which are around us.

This other idea about optimism, it’s maybe something that we don’t talk a lot about in the present condition of which we find ourselves, but I think it’s, it is fundamental of of the architectures that we create that translates this idea of abundance in life. This is a cancer center in in dub in in Jerusalem, in the heart of Jerusalem, one of the most prominent sites that’s under construction. It’s the largest wood construction within the in the region, in the Middle East.

But it’s it’s a symbol of a butterfly, a cancer center that’s very fragile, but it’s a asymmetrical in in its shape. It’s shaped in a way that can capture light and the changes of of season that begin to fall upon it, and it comes from this analogy of this, this fable, this ancient Jewish fable which is about the wise men and the cynic.

And the cynic is a young man, the wise men, this old fable is is I think a better rabbi. But the the cynic wanted to trick the wise men who was in the main square of the community every day helping people, and he said, “Well, I’m, I’m, you know, the young, I’m so wise,

I’m going to trick this cynic so i’ve got an idea I’m going to run out into the field. I’m going to grab a butterfly in my hands. I’m going to walk back into the town square, and I’m going to ask a question to the wise men, and I’m going to trick him, and he’s going to give the wrong answer, and everybody’s going to laugh, and I’m going to be seen as really the, you know, the smart guy.

So he went out, he grabbed the butterfly in the field, he came back, and he said, “Okay wise man, in my hands, I’ve got a butterfly, and tell me if that butterfly is alive or dead.” And he thought to himself, “Well, I’m the clever guy, and if the wise man says it’s dead, I’m gonna open my hands and I’m gonna let the butterfly fly away in the sky, and everybody will laugh at the wise men. And if the wise man says it’s dead, I will crush the butterfly in my hand and I’ll drop it on the ground, and equally, I’d be the clever guy.”

So he asked the wise men, and the wise man sat back, and he sat for a minute, and then he said to the cynic, he said, “The answer to your question is it’s all in your hands. You have the ability to decide if something is alive or it’s dead, and you can choose.”

And for the cancer center, it was the same thing because as you go into your battle for cancer, you have the ability to choose your mindset and how you’re going to see every day. And equally, the people that are going to work there have the ability to choose their perspective, and the building needs to radiate that on the outside, and it needs to radiate that optimism, that this is a journey that everybody is on and it’s one that we can begin to move through.

And the architecture has the ability to communicate that. The elements are also tied to nature, a primal one as I mentioned. We are tied both in the idea of biophilia or hornophilia around horticulture is very important, and that’s not just seeing nature but natural shapes, natural light, natural material – biophilia and really these these ideas of these fractal patterns that radiate with us. And clearly, that’s important in a bunch of the product in the buildings that I’ve shown you.

This cancer center that looks like a tree-lined garden, both in the structure, the glue lam that’s all structural that we had to go all the way up to the minister of health in the province of Ontario to convince them that it was the same cost, in fact less than it was steel to use wood, and would also radiate positive things to the people that used it.

This idea now, which I think is more important than ever about the solidness, stillness, this idea of an unplugged architecture that we can begin to connect to what is within us, has been really no more important and has, I think, been brought to the forefront. This is an education, but a building, a school in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, but it’s in the northern area that has these very deep and long winters.

But this idea of stillness as a basis, the existing building, the new edition which also tries to radiate some of these ideas of optimism as you begin to arrive, blue lam nail laminate, timber roof connecting these two buildings as a gateway. But this idea, even when it’s filled, this idea of quietness as a basis of architecture, I think is something we need to spend more time on and focusing.

Authenticity, a very important one, rootedness, right now it’s a key piece in COVID. This is an amazing lady, it’s a wellness resort outside of Toronto in the north. They’re tree houses that you go and begin to connect with nature, food therapy, and others. You can see the shape of it is tied to this idea of the maple key. Any of us are familiar with Sumant, the idea of the public areas out front, the bedrooms and the bathroom in behind in the treehouse that you inhabit, really this glowing and beginning to be something that pokes its head out into nature.

Really the last element that I think I’ll touch on, which really we’re spending a lot of time in in our firm, not only legacy, this the impact of what we build and creating the sense of of purpose, but this idea of generosity, that what we create gives more than it takes. It’s generous in the idea of our communities where we heal, where we learn. It’s aspirational, it communicates that we are part of something bigger as individuals, as part of a society.

This project is something for a very large bridge in the city of Toronto that spans a beautiful ravine, gorgeous watercourse between two parts of the city, one that’s really the high street, the fancy shops where all the businesses, and the other a very vibrant Greek community where you’d go for eating and life and street life.

The question is, could we use the single use piece of infrastructure created 100 years ago with these huge concrete massive concrete piers, that then have these lightweight steel frames, and could we use these to support communities, places where we live, libraries, community center, micro retail?

And the idea is that creating mixed-use infrastructure isn’t a new idea. We design our communities as being mixed use, our streets, that’s a fundamental basis of what we do. But is it a new idea? And clearly we know it’s not if we look at flat Venice, we look at Florence. There’s about five of these things around the world.

And when this bridge was created, it was amazing because of the spectacular reviews that it gave to the ravine, the city, and the watercourse beyond. But today it’s a wasteland, you know, it’s traffic dominated, the length of five football field. And the worst part about it is, you know, in the early 2000s, it was the place before or the place where there was, you know, 500 suicides, people jumping off the bridge before this what was called a “luminous veil” was added.

And this barrier, the suicide barrier was added to much fanfare. The problem with it, it was a great answer, beautiful design answer to the wrong question, a pathogenic response as opposed to a salutogenic response of creating a vibrant community that would bring people together that we could begin to create relationships among us.

This barrier was created. The interesting thing, the sad thing, the desperate thing was that the suicide numbers didn’t reduce in the city of Toronto, they just moved somewhere else. And so that was the idea that we could take this thing and create a community above it that would have hotels, social incubators, micro stalls within it that were layered on top of these massive concrete piers down below.

And so you can see the transit down below, the market retail, the restaurants, the libraries, the social incubators, the housing, and the linear park, the sort of hills and dales above it. And the housing is using again this very interesting grip metal that begins to take the sticky metal, these hooks almost like a velcro with two hooks on both sides, the metal, and it layers it with very, very thin pieces of veneer.

And as you layer it into a form, it creates it almost a truss and it holds that shape to anything that’s massively strong. So we create these very strong tubes instead of a square box. We roll these things up. We then begin to add the storage, the space inside instead of the boxes that we’ve been occupying for houses in COVID.

It begins to create something with these shallow vaults, they’re very tight, probably 35, 40 square meters, bed up above, kitchen, bathroom underneath. But it’s something that then begins to relate to that sort of sense of home and embrace again in a very, very small space, a linear park on top, again trying to create those beautiful views and engagements, both of the landscape, the long views and engagement of the watercourse and the ravines and the city beyond.

The elements, the pieces of how can we begin to intentionally, in this time of when we’re put onto our back foot, we’re feeling uncomfortable and unsettled, what is the role of what we do as architects, as owners, as clients, as municipal officials to recharge, to reinvigorate the places where we live.

That begins to create this societal physiological, psychological underpinned by science, neuroscience research, amazing research that then the crate begins to create the conditions of we can enhance our social bonds that have been so battered.

Of light to enhance and stimulate our learning, our memory as a society for one reason, to create the conditions of which we can survive, thrive, and flourish and move beyond sort of the defensive stage of where we’ve been as a society to move forward in a very robust way of of recreating and enhancing those fantastic bonds of society.

Those are some of the things that have been weighing heavily on my mind, the work that we’re doing in the office, and the discussions that we’ve been having with our clients and in fact the people that lead our communities. So I hope the stuff that we’ve been wrestling with and sharing that with you, I hope it gives you something to take away with and use it in a way that can move us all forward globally beyond where we have been in this fragile time. 

So Adam, thanks foru the time and i’m happy to answer some questions on the things that we’ve been wrestling with.  Thank you so much Ty that was absolutely brilliant.  If everyone wants to show the appreciation you can do so in chat and i’ll share with Ty after the presentations. 

We’ve got a whole bunch of questions. I remind everyone they can leave them in the q&a function on zoom.  We’ve got a really interesting one here from Michael and he says what strategies would you recommend to us to help convince a client that values budget more than carbon footprint or the resulting health benefits when occupying a wood building. 

To build with mass timber over a steel frame or concrete building. Well for me what I found with all of the clients um either if their education, if they’re leading with communities is all, I’ve had a discussion about is how do we enhance the performance?

Create the conditions of which all of the people in your building can thrive.  And that’s either the kids that are learning, the adults that are at university learning, the people that are working in offices and I think it’s it’s not just it’s it’s going back to thinking about optimal health as a tabletop that has four legs. Environmental health and ecological health is very important. Our 

physical health is very important, the health of our societies and our communities either within a university or within a business. That community is very important and also our mind health is important. And the space is a driver for that.

And when I talk about our clients, the CEOs, the head of schools or others, they all know that intuitively. I say, “You know where do you do your best thinking? And can you picture that in your mind’s eye?” They say, “Oh yeah, definitely.” I say, “Is that where you work?” And they say, “Of course not. I work in a terrible cubicle or something that doesn’t have any daylight.” And I said, “Well, what’s that doing to your performance, the quality of the air, the stuff?” And people know that intuitively.

And often people say, “Well, what’s the evidence that supports that?” Well, there’s tons of evidence, neuroscientists that’s supporting it. But I say, “You know, does that mean something to you inside your gut, your gut reaction? Am I saying is something crazy?” They say, “Well no, of course not.” So we need to get into those discussions that are very human.

And everyone that I’ve had a discussion about it, and I said it’s backed up with the neuroscience stuff that I support it, and I have had zero pushback. In fact, there are people that are coming to me and said, “Ty, I understand that I need your help.” So those are the discussions I think that we need to we need to start talking about the bigger environment of health.

Architects and the community have been doing very well on the ecological side, sustainable. But if you look at the mind health or just that wood, and the study that we all know well on how that makes me feel, and the chemical and the mental, physiological and psychological, it’s all documented.

Absolutely, it is something that just seems intuitively obvious that you know you don’t necessarily need to read all the research in the world about. I’ve got a question here from an anonymous attendee, “Does exposed timber have an impact on the stimulating potential of spaces, or is it just the design?” So I guess how do you use timber to enhance in enhance this?

Well, the I think that the timber is an extraordinary one. Um, for me is just that those blocks, you know those conch, the cross laminate blocks that the grip blocks, grip metal blocks that I showed you. There’s a whole insulation that’s happening for one client in a school, in a big gymnasium, they’re dividing the gymnasium into four classrooms and there’s a mezzanine overlooking that.

And the company was installing them and their their exposed wood there was teachers that came in and were looking down over top of the wood. It’s beautiful hardwood somewhere in softwood. And I said, “What do you think?” And the one teacher said, “It looks amazing.”

And she said, “The thing that I’m disappointed was that those rooms are for for senior kindergarten.” And she said, “I’m disappointed because I’m not uh…I’m teaching grade one this year. I wish I was surrounded by this wood.” So why, what’s the reaction to that, as opposed to being in drywall or you know something else?

There is something intuitive that’s deep down inside of us that we respond to, and there’s tons of studies that relate to it. So that’s an antidote, you know, sort of reaction from just this week that we resonated deeply for some reason because I think it’s we can see the grain of the wood, we can see growth and life and time, uh…maybe that’s the the elements of biophilia. But it is undeniably powerful. There’s the evidence, but it is back and back to that that resonator, which is our gut, that that something happens there.

So you can follow the science if you want and the evidence there, or you can you can follow, you know, your gut that’s based back to in fact, the neuroscience response. There’s another question here mentioning how there was some amazing case studies in schools and uh in Australia with…across the world, you’ve got the baby boomer generation hitting retirement age, so is there any precedence in aged care or senior living using these concepts?

Well, we it’s a sector that we’re in fact, very busy in, uh…and in fact, I know a lot of brilliant work that’s been done in Australia, um uh there’s a group um…that that we’ve been involved with that’s been doing uh…distrevia, that’s been doing some amazing work in that zone, uh in Australia, um. I think it’s that that primal response, uh is the same in the school system as it is in in the in the in the older age.

And part of that is back to our sense of quality, our sense of time, uh the emotional response that the idea of being connected to something that has age and and longevity, uh as a basis of it, um. It’s an area that we’re really uh busy, uh there’s a one, it’s on our website that’s on the west coast of Canada, uh that in fact the whole basis of timber is what we use both in both in shape and form and and material.

And in fact, I would add also that in mental health facilities, there’s some great adolescent mental health facilities in Australia that have had some involvement with that support the the same ideas here. And in fact, the materials, fantastic. We’ve got time for one more question and again from an an anonymous attendee, “Can you suggest some books that are a good point to start on this topic?”

Um, there is a variety of uh books, one a New York Times uh author, um, which is called “Welcome to My World” or “Welcome to Our World”, um, Richardson is her name, Goldring Richardson Goldring. It’s a fantastic read of of linking together the sort of the neuroscience and and architecture.

The other website to go to is the Academy of Design for Health, uh, it’s great resources, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, it’s another great resource. The other one that I would recommend is the University of Venice, UVIA, the Master of Neuroscience Applied to Architecture and Design.

Using biophilic design to heal body, mind, and soul

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