Contact Us
Sponsored Content

Wood Buildings Demonstrate The Benefits Of Being Surrounded By Nature

Wood construction and materials run throughout McDonald's flagship restaurant in Chicago.

In the Midwest’s largest city, one of the world’s most recognizable brands — McDonald’s — is showcasing how wood can bring value and help express the company’s growing commitment to environmentally conscious choices.

For its Chicago-based flagship restaurant, the fast-food chain is shaking off its plastic-clad, brightly colored interiors for an exposed timber design, along with more sustainable, naturally hued materials. In addition to cross-laminated timber, the restaurant features more than 70 planted trees at ground level, a green roof, and a floating glass garden of ferns and white birch trees. The green roof features edible plants including apple trees that will be harvested and donated to the Ronald McDonald House. The project signals the fast-food giant’s interest in biophilic and eco-friendly design.

More and more companies are seeing the benefits of biophilic design and timber-built architecture; research suggests it can boost employees’ morale, productivity and sense of well-being. Biophilic research and design principles are predicted to shape the built environment in the next decade. McKinsey & Co. predicts that wellness is the next trillion-dollar industry, as employers invest in healthy living programs and as customers take more responsibility for optimizing their own health.

Covid-19 is also changing the ways in which buildings are designed. For example, building teams are considering touchless entries, improved ventilation systems and design features that allow people to spread out with renewed interest. But the increased focus on beneficial spaces is not just on occupant safety; designers are looking for ways to simply improve the way people feel in a building since they need to spend more time inside.

“The spaces where we live and work can have a significant effect on our physical and emotional well-being,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, founder and principal of San Juan, Puerto Rico- and Miami-based architecture firm Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón. “Thoughtful, innovative design can shape how we feel and what we experience within a physical space.”

The McDonald's flagship in Chicago

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, most people in North America spent approximately 90% of their time indoors, either at home, at work or in spaces like retail stores, restaurants, schools or other public buildings.

It should come as no surprise that the built environment, and the materials used to construct it, have a major impact on us.

In reviewing existing research from the U.S., Canada, Austria and other countries, environmental/design psychologist Sally Augustin and researcher David Fell found that views of nature, natural sunlight, plants and water elements have been shown to provide positive health benefits both psychologically through the positive effect and psychophysiologically by lowering stress reactivity of the autonomic nervous system.

“When we experience things in a built environment that are similar to hospitable natural spaces that sheltered humans for thousands of years, we feel relaxed and de-stressed in a profound way,” Augustin said. “We are not as stressed in difficult situations and our lives are improved.” 

Research also suggests the presence of wood can contribute to higher levels of employee satisfaction. An online survey carried out on a sampling of 1,000 workers in Australia revealed a close connection between the rate of employee absenteeism, their satisfaction at work and the presence of wood in their workplace. The more wood surfaces there are, the more people found the workplace pleasant and the more they felt connected with nature. They also reported better concentration, more optimism, less stress and greater productivity.

Inside the McDonald's flagship in Chicago

Inspired by studies that conclude that nature and wood can have a beneficial effect on creativity, concentration and well-being, software juggernaut Microsoft had the idea to build workspaces outdoors — in the trees. These rustic cabin-like wood structures come complete with many of the modern necessities of an office: electricity, meeting spaces, WiFi access and ergonomically designed seating. Hand-carved wooden doors open at the swipe of a badge to a selection of meeting spaces.

Biophilic design, and wood specifically, can contribute to a project’s sales proposition and create warm, beautiful environments that appeal to a new generation of eco-minded employees, residents and occupants.

“Biophilic design, design that brings nature into the built environment, has often been regarded as a luxury for employers that want the best possible workplace for their employees, or that want to showcase their efforts to be more environmentally responsible,” Terrapin Bright Green founding partner Bill Browing wrote in a 2015 article published in People + Strategy. ”Green building efforts traditionally focus on costs of energy, water, and healthy materials — all important topics. Yet, human costs are 112 times greater than energy costs in the workplace. Incorporating nature into the built environment is not a luxury, but a sound economic investment in health and productivity. Biophilic design has been shown to improve employee well-being, increase productivity, and boost the bottom line.”

To learn more about the benefits of biophilic design and to see what’s possible with wood, download the new Biophilic Design LookBook from Think Wood and WoodWorks.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Think Wood. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content. 

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house branded content studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to