Wood has begun to be popular in hospital construction, as it supports convalescence, reduces stress and raises spirits. For example, in the development work for the Kajaani Hospital project the use of wood is a strong feature. According to Marjut Wallenius, a Docent and Doctor of Psychology at the University of Tampere, the use of wood in service centres for the elderly and in hospital construction promotes the health and well-being and the mind and body. – I also throw down a challenge to architects and structural designers and express the hope that wood can be left visible in interiors, says Wallenius.
People’s experience of material has been measured using questionnaires in which the respondents evaluated their own experience on different scales. The questionnaires also looked into how wood influences people’s behaviour. A study done at a service centre for the elderly showed that the use of wood in interiors affected the behaviour of elderly people favourably. – Wood has psychological effects on people and a similar stress-reducing effect to nature, says Wallenius.
Wood gives a building a feeling of restfulness and homeliness. According to Wallenius, an interesting and unexpected observation was that when, in homes for the elderly, wooden materials like wooden trays in the dining room were introduced, in the opinion of the staff interaction between the residents and awareness of their surroundings increased.
In Japan, good experiences have also been gained concerning the use of wooden structures in neurological clinics. More of these behavioural studies are needed to help find solutions, for example in the care of elderly people suffering from memory disorders, says Wallenius.
The use of wood has a positive impact on the quality of indoor air
In Japan, it has been established that patients spending long periods in hospital need the atmosphere of a relaxing and pacifying environment, which positively affects their mood and process of recuperation. By using natural massive wood, it has been found that the humidity of indoor air in hospitals can be kept optimal from a health perspective, particularly for those suffering from allergies and asthma.
Although the studies have not yet been sufficiently systematic and comprehensive, observations up to now show that people react to wood in interiors both psychologically and physiologically, and that this reaction is usually positive, explains Wallenius. Wood can also be considered a material that supports health and recovery, although it is not yet known precisely what the positive effects of wood are based on.
The health effects of wood utilised in hospital design
The health effects of wood in a hospital environment have been studied in such countries as Norway, Austria, Japan and Canada and Denmark. A study by the Norwegian Institute of Wood Technology established that a room in which one of the four walls had a window and another was completely wood-panelled was the most harmonised type of room for patients. The use of wood is also particularly favoured in facilities where people spend long periods of time, such as offices, hospitals and health centres, waiting rooms, schools and day care centres.
The Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences RED with Wood project recently agreed to co-operate with a new hospital in Kainuu in the form of dissertations, among other things. Preliminary discussions have also been held on the possibility of donating information capital generated during the project to the planning of a new paediatric hospital for HUCH (Hospital District of Helsinki).
The new hospital in Kainuu, which is at the design stage, will be one of the new Finnish sites being constructed based on restorative or harmonising construction, in which the health effects of wood will be utilised. In the municipal round of proposals, the City of Kuhmo has proposed the requirement that local wood from Kainuu be visible in the hospital's structures and interiors, partly as a result of its health effects. Construction work is scheduled to begin in 2015.
Less fatigue and stress in wooden schools
The favourable psycho-physiological effects of wood have also been proven in schools. According to Wallenius, in classrooms with whole-wood interiors, the morning stress peak, measured as a variation in pulse rate, subsided soon after arriving at school and did not rise again. In a normal classroom, on the other hand, a mild level of stress in pupils continued throughout the day.
Correspondingly, the pupils’ experiences of stress, such as fatigue or feelings of inefficiency, were less in wooden classrooms than in normal ones.
Wallenius says that the favourable effects of wood cannot be duplicated with imitation wood. – Physiological measurements have shown that the quality of sleep and recovery from stress are better in a room with wood than one with imitation wood.
Wood as an interior element even seems to extend its influence to social perception and behaviour. In offices where wooden products were used, the visitors' first impression of the workers was more favourable. The visitors felt that the staff were more expert, successful, honest, responsible and creative than in places where there was no wood.