Lake in Finnish forest

Buildings to boost mind, productivity and wellbeing

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Last week I took off for a few days to the forests of Lapland, and with each step I took across the carpet of moss and pine needles, I felt the pressures of everyday life disappear.

Being outdoors is where I am happiest. Free from distractions, it’s also where I do a lot of my best thinking. There’s something about the light, the air and the textures that open up the mind, and I’ve often thought how beneficial it would be if everyone could enjoy the sense of wellbeing that nature evokes in their own homes and workplaces.

At Stora Enso, I work as a Business Development Manager pushing for a change in the way we build, and promoting the possibilities of wood in the construction industry. We’re big on innovation, and finding exciting new ways to use trees is what we thrive on. 

Like my colleagues, I am committed to using wood products from sustainable forests in ways that will benefit the world. Right now, a key consideration for us is how we can play a part in the creation of buildings that both lower carbon emissions and improve quality of life for the people who live in them. We already have several engineered wood products that help us do this, including phenomenally robust cross-laminated timber (CLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) that can be used in the construction of towering buildings instead of concrete and steel.

Biophilic design connects with nature

The work we do also taps into a fast-rising trend named biophilic design. I use the term ‘trend’ loosely, as the principle has arguably been around for centuries. At its most basic, biophilic design considers how architects can use nature’s materials, such as wood and stone, and attributes, such as natural light and space, in a built environment. It is a response to the human need we have to connect with nature.

Here in Finland, this all feels very comfortable and familiar to us. The outdoors, nature, forests, wildlife – it’s all part of our DNA, and the way we live. In the past, wooden buildings were traditionally built for single family houses and cottages. Today the new wooden materials like CLT and LVL are shifting the focus towards bigger, higher and more complex wooden buildings. It’s probably no surprise that Stora Enso’s new head office in Helsinki will wholeheartedly embrace the principles of biophilic design.

The design of the building is ongoing and the construction will begin in 2022. It will be exciting to see its wooden form rise up on the city’s sea front. When completed, it will be the very heart of our company, and it will be a healthy and inspiring place to work for our employees. And yes, there is real evidence to back that up.

Time and again, research has shown that biophilic design brings positive benefits to the people who inhabit the buildings where its principles are applied. You certainly don’t have to live somewhere as heavily forested like Finland for this to be true – wood has a universal appeal.

One study in Australia found that employees in work environments with exposed wood feel more connected to nature and have more positive associations with their workplace. In addition to this, research has found that they have higher levels of concentration, creativity, happiness and productivity. Some of the benefits have even been quantified: productivity in buildings built on biophilic design principles has been shown to increase by 8 percent, and rates of wellbeing by 13 percent.

The world is ready for change

Green Building Week is a fantastic opportunity for the world to see what some of the brightest minds in construction are capable of, and learn why many of the industry’s ‘go-to’ approaches are unsustainable. Biophilic design will be a key part of this conversation, because it goes hand-in-hand with the wider story of our planet’s need to move towards more sustainable materials in the houses and offices we build.

In most developed countries, we spend up to 90 per cent of our lives indoors, and estimates indicate that we need to double the number of houses the world needs by 2060. Wood is the way. A good example of how to move forward can be seen in Finland, where we have set a target for 45 percent of all new public buildings in 2025 to be made from timber. At Stora Enso, we plant four trees for every one we harvest, so there’s no danger of them running out.

In fact, there’s never been a better time for wooden buildings and biophilic design to enter the mainstream. The coronavirus crisis has raised global stress levels by a worrying magnitude – what better an answer to this, at least in part, than by creating spaces that can calm us, improve the air we breathe, give us better, more natural light and connect us with textures and materials that we see in nature? 

When I wandered the forests in Lapland I was once again so amazed by the beautiful landscape what we have in this country. If we can bring even a piece of it to our cities and to our new head office project, I think it will definitely improve our wellbeing.


Antto Kauhanen

Antto Kauhanen

Antto Kauhanen works a Business Development Manager at Stora Enso Wood Products. He is responsible for Stora Enso's business development in wood based building solutions in Finland. Antto is also Stora Enso’s project lead in the new Helsinki head office project. Before joining Stora Enso two years ago, Antto has driven construction projects in energy sector and commercial building sector, and gained extensive experience in the field of project management and construction contracting. 
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