Building Nature into Architecture
The WWA has long promoted wood windows and doors as the only alternative for those wanting to create a truly sustainable building. Obviously, windows and doors are just two components of a building, but when we talk about sustainability in design, we need to consider all aspects of construction, from frame to furnishings.
Not only do we have to consider the projected carbon emissions of a build, but also the embodied carbon. It is widely acknowledged that reducing resources in construction is a powerful tool for mitigating embodied carbon. The WWA advocates that the creation of low carbon spaces can only be achieved by substituting high carbon building material such as steel and concrete for lower carbon materials like timber.
What will you learn?
Through the Building Nature into Architecture lecture series, we have been able to work with leading architect professionals to explore a range of topics related to natural building materials, like timber.
This module aims to provide a detailed insight into all of the themes and topics that were central to Nottingham Building Nature into Architecture event. It will enable you to gain a detailed overview of the high-quality lectures that took place at the event and learn from the keynote speakers through a combination of video content, case studies and original content inspired by the event themes.
You will first learn from Alexandra McCartney (Hopkins Architects) – her talk gave a detailed discussion on the design of Alder Hey Hospital: Insitute in the Park, a new research and education building at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. After this, you will gain a detailed insight into the relationship between natural materials and the built environment from Mike Hawkins (Evans Vettori).
Speaker 1: Alexandra McCartney
Job title: Associate Director
Practice: Hopkins Architects
Alexandra McCartney is an experienced and versatile architect who specialises in mixed-use developments, as well as residential and residential care facilities.
She has worked as a project architect on an elderly day centre and associated housing developments for the elderly in Kensington. She was also project architect for a major mixed-use masterplan in Coventry which included a science park and retail / commercial spaces. She then developed the preliminary brief and scheme options for a £40 million PRS development in Manchester.
Alexandra was part of the winning team for the open competition for the Letchworth Garden City Housing Competition, completed in 2011.
More recently, Alexandra has worked on Alder Hey Hospital: Institute in the Park, a new research and education building at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in 2013 – the subject of her lecture at Building Nature into Architecture – which will be explored in-depth in the following slides.
Institute in the Park at Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool, UK
Completed in summer 2018, the ‘Institute in the Park’ houses a mixture of spaces to support the needs of the NHS Trust and their four University partners – research and teaching laboratories, offices, meeting rooms, lecture theatres, breakout spaces, a café and a library.
Between two modular wings, a curvilinear central atrium is augmented by shared internal and external spaces across three storeys, encouraging interaction and collaboration between researchers and visitors, as well as establishing multiple connections between the Institute building and the surrounding park. The three-storey design and central stair encourage circulation through the building and minimise the use of the central lift.
Timber has been used both internally and externally to respond to both its parkland setting and avoid an institutional environment. The modular nature of the façade has not only reduced installation time but also provided ‘value for money’ for the NHS Trust. The exposed frame and soffits of GGBS concrete, embedded with heating and cooling coils provide a self-finished, low energy and resilient construction, which, together with the building’s modularity, will provide a long-life building for the Trust.
Masterplan and inspiration
Built on what was previously part of the local authority-run Springfield Park, The Institute in the Park was part of a masterplan for a combined hospital-park site. The building and its contextual environment were inspired by Sir Joseph Paxton’s Birkenhead Park – the world’s first publicly funded civic park found across the Mersey on the Wirral – and designed to facilitate a genuine connection between the building and the natural world.
The use of timber internally employs Douglas fir soffits and balustrades to extend the contextual park location deep into the building. It relaxes and warms the building’s interior and provides a calming and natural atmosphere.
The atrium is open to the public and has been designed with a degree of fluidity; following the natural curvature of the land, the ground floor rises 1.6m from east to west with a series of slopes and steps. A series of statement planters, filled with green foliage, chart a path through the heart of the building, blurring the boundaries between the external and the internal.
Project lead Andrew Barnett said, ‘It’s a diagram I came up with on day one. The park, conceived as a naturalistic landscape set within the orthogonal grid of the Victorian town, can be seen replicated in the institute’s layout. Its curvilinear atrium space animates the centre of the building with informal communal spaces, set against the more formal spaces of the modular wings at each side.’
Sustainability and solar control
The Institute employs passive measures to create a healthy environment by maximising daylight penetration and minimising solar gain to prevent overheating through the use of timber cladding fins positioned on the exterior over the fenestration. These fins are 150mm deep to the north and south, and 900mm deep to east and west to deal with low sun, enabling but modulating good natural lighting internally. Additionally, hand-operable panels in the cladding allow natural ventilation to penetrate each perimeter room.
Speaker 2: Mike Hawkins
Job title: Architect
Practice: Evans Vettori
Mike has worked on a wide range of projects across domestic, educational and public sectors, including the redevelopment of the Rosehill special school in Nottingham and the award-winning Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax. He has extensive experience in the specification and use of timber in the built environment. He is a self-builder who has taught architecture in universities at Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham, as well as being a tutor in the Design and Build unit at Nottingham University School of Architecture, specialising in the realisation of live build projects. In 2018 the unit designed and built three classrooms, a kitchen and an office, almost entirely from timber, for The Lesedi Creche, located in Mortusi village outside Tzaneen South Africa.
The importance of designing with natural materials
A key theme explored in Mike Hawkins’ lecture at Building Nature into Architecture was the importance of designing with natural materials. His discussion touched upon the need to understand the innate connection between people and the natural world when conceiving a design and the importance of developing our built environment with a robust appreciation of how natural materials affect occupants, the environment and the function of our building stock. The following slides will explore the ideas Mike raised during his Building Nature into Architecture lecture.
A closer look at biophilic design
As referenced earlier in Alexandra McCartney’s discussion on Alder Hey’s Institute in the Park, the act of providing a link between humans and nature in architectural design is commonly referred to as biophilic design. The rise of this philosophy has encouraged the use of natural materials, such as wood, in designed environments across many industries. Biophilic structures are often described as spaces that are inspired by natural forms and contain the essence of natural objects.
The definition of biophilic design can be broken down into three key aspects:
• A direct connection to nature – incorporating real sensory elements of nature such as plants trees, light, water and fresh air
• Indirect references to nature that allow us to mimic or evoke a feeling of nature – be that natural materials, colours, textures and patterns
• Human spatial response – to create spaces that both excite and inspire us but also allow us to relax and recuperate
The effect of building nature into architecture
Research on the human impact of natural materials in the built environment is growing but still a limited area of study. However, natural materials, like timber, are widely regarded as having profoundly positive effects on human physiology and performance when used as a building element. The visual, physical and tactile nature of timber materials influences a range of senses in the human body and can help occupants to:
A Japanese study compared the physiological response of 14 people sitting in rooms with either wooden or steel wall paneling. The pulse and heart rate of each subject was measured every second for 20 seconds while they observed the different panels. The study found that exposure to wooden panels significantly decreased the blood pressure of subjects, while exposure to steel panels significantly increased it.
Sakuragawa, S., Miyazaki, Y., Kaneko, T. & Makita, T. Influence of wood wall panels on physiological and psychological responses. Journal of Wood Science 51, 136–140 (2005)
Enhance cognitive performance
According to the study Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health & Wellbeing in the Built Environment (2014), timber buildings can result in ‘improved mental engagement, alertness, concentration, physiological and psychological responsiveness.
14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health & Wellbeing in the Built Environment, Browning, W et al, 2014
Boost mood and heighten emotional responses
The behaviour of 44 elderly Japanese residents using wooden tables, chairs and tableware in a care home environment was studied and compared to those using plastic alternatives. The results suggested that the use of wooden products increased the number of interactions between individuals, making them more talkative and more willing to engage with one another, as well as improving their emotional state and ability to express themselves.
Anme, T. et al. Behaviour Changes in Older Persons Caused by Using Wood Products in Assisted Living. Public Health Research 2, 106–109 (2012)
Environmental and construction benefits of natural timber materials
Timber doesn’t just help occupants feel better, it enhances the construction process and is kinder to the environment too.
The use of modern manufacturing, specialist treatments and micro-porous protective paints have taken one of nature’s most beautiful materials and incorporated industrial levels of durability, energy efficiency and longevity.
Defect-free engineered softwoods and quality hardwoods are now capable of offering a genuine alternative to steel, PVC and other widely used materials.
It is also seen as a solution to many of the current challenges of sustainability and waste management thanks to its:
• Natural abundance
• Renewable, recyclable, reusable nature
• Ability to absorb carbon emissions
• Flexible and high-tensile strength
• Naturally insulating properties
• Durable and easy to maintain characteristics
The environmental impact of timber window frames
A report by Heriot Watt University on timber, modified timber and aluminium-clad timber windows shows how all the timber-based frames considered have significantly lower impacts than PVC-u equivalents.
The report demonstrated that timber window frames made to WWA specifications are carbon-negative over their original lifecycle. Across the estimated lifespan of 60 years, each timber window installed instead of a PVC-u counterpart was shown to save 160kgs CO₂e – that’s over one and a half tonnes of CO₂e per average house of 10 windows.
Whole Life Analysis of timber, modified timber and aluminium-clad timber windows: Service Life Planning (SLP), Whole Life Costing (WLC) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Dr Gillian F. Menzies, Institute for Building and Urban Design, Heriot Watt University, June 2013
Want to learn more?
We hope you’ve found this module useful. If you would like to keep learning, click on one of the suggested modules or visit the Wood Windows Alliance website to see how one of our members can help you on your next project.