Designers Make Tracks For Timber

Jul 2, 2018


The timeless elegance of timber will be on show as part of a major new transport project announced for Melbourne.

Five new railway stations will be built across the city over the next seven years as part of the Metro Tunnel Project.

The stations, designed by a consortium of UK and Australian firms, will be constructed using a variety of materials to deliver an eye-catching and unique aesthetic.

Timber will feature prominently in a number of the stations, chosen for its ability to deliver structurally sound and strikingly beautiful elements.

But the benefits of incorporating timber into any building project go beyond its timeless beauty - whether it’s for multi-billion dollar metro stations or the addition of a new deck on the back of a family home.

Introducing biophilic design

Timber is not only a building material of choice for its strength and sustainability, but is also being hailed for its sensory qualities, which research suggests can increase a person’s feelings of health and wellbeing.

Incorporating natural elements into the built environment is called biophilic design, while the notion behind its benefits is known as the biophilia hypothesis.

First proposed in the mid 80’s by a North American biologist, the theory suggests that humans have an instinctive desire to be connected with nature and other forms of life. During the past three decades, a growing body of research shows how spending time in natural environments can have positive benefits on a person’s health and wellbeing.

But with increasing urbanisation and reduced opportunities for people to “get back to nature”, architects and builders are looking to satisfy this biophilic urge and create greater connections with the environment by incorporating specific elements into their designs.

These include everything from natural light and living plants to water features, organic materials such as wood, and views (both real and represented) of nature.

Studies around the world have also examined whether the natural elements used in biophilic design can create positive impacts on people exposed to them. This includes a recent large-scale survey undertaken in Australia looking at the benefits of using natural elements such as timber in the workplace.

The study of 1000 workers, who spend most of their time indoors, revealed that those working in environments with exposed wood felt more connected to nature, had greater positive associations with their workplace, reported higher levels of wellbeing and were less likely to take sick leave.

The use of timber in the workplace also correlated with higher levels of concentration, improved mood and personal productivity.

Other international studies have looked at the relationship between a person’s wellbeing and their exposure to wood or other natural elements in a range of built environments including offices, schools, hospitals and homes.

Amazingly, it has been shown to impact on everything from productivity (increased by 13 percent), improved test results and higher concentration levels, to quicker post-operative recovery rates, reduced need for pain relief and increased property prices.

On the right track

Before the design brief for the Metro Tunnel Project was issued, the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority commissioned a report by Deakin University, which looked at the opportunities for biophilic design within the city’s new underground railway stations.

The Creating Healthy Places report highlighted the growing international belief that biophilic design can help reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve wellbeing and expedite self-healing.

It said that this style of design can and should be at the core of modern transit infrastructure, suggesting a range of biophilic strategies that could be incorporated in the metro station designs to help "enliven the health of Melbourne’s residents and commuters".

Strategies include the use of timber for handrails and similar surfaces to provide a tactile experience for commuters, while the visual texture of timber in other areas could also provide an evocative experience, despite not being able to be touched.

While the report was only created as a guidance document, it is clear the architects behind the concepts for the metro stations took it to heart, with timber extensively used throughout the designs.

One of the most striking examples will be on show at the State Library station where a collection of graceful timber arches will soar high above the heads of commuters, criss-crossing the ceiling in a dramatic display of both the elegance and versatility of timber.

Additionally, a pavilion-style canopy of timber trusses, supported by eight massive curved timber beams, will meld elegance and practicality to provide an eye-catching entrance to Anzac Station.

While timber is being used here on a grand and impressive scale, certified sustainably sourced timber can be just as appealing — and good for you — when used at home or in the office, with the versatility to be everything from the main building material or feature element, to a classic and contemporary option for flooring or furnishings.