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American Hardwoods Enhance Healthy, Healing Spaces
Meeting the exacting requirements of aesthetics, sustainability, durability
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Advertising supplement provided by The Hardwood Council



While many tropical hardwoods rank high on the Janka hardness scale, density is one criterion among several to be considered when specifying hardwood products. Architects concerned with product sustainability should also consider whether the wood is harvested legally and responsibly. The first steps are to determine whether the species is on any CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) lists, and whether the supplier participates in a certification system.

Beyond that, Jim Bower, Ph.D. of Dovetail Partners, Inc. notes the International Tropical Timber Organization stated in July, 2006 that only about 5 percent of the tropical forests covered by a recent extensive study are sustainably managed.

In contrast, he says questions about the sustainability of U.S. tree species are more easily answered because, “We would find current and trend data regarding net annual growth and removals for that tree species, as well as information about volume by age and size class and by forest ownership category. There also would be reasonable certainty that harvesting was done in accordance with municipal, county, state and federal forest management guidelines and regulations.” He elaborates in an August, 2006 report titled, Have Tropical Woods in your Product Line? How to Know If They Were Harvested Legally, Responsibly. (

While it’s widely recognized that natural materials enrich the built environment, some architects may hesitate to specify American hardwoods out of concern for their sustainability. However, every year, U.S. hardwood forests grow far more hardwood than is harvested. The U.S. Forest Service states that the hardwood volume in American forests increases by 10.2 billion cubic feet yearly, while annual removals total only 6 billion cubic feet. Consequently, the volume of American hardwoods is 90 percent larger than it was 50 years ago.

Across the U.S. hardwood-growing areas, climate and soil vary, favoring different species. Hard maple, for example, grows in the northern states, but not in the Mississippi Delta. Choosing from regionally native species adds to a design’s sustainability.

BNIM’s Hickson notes that native species were specified for the LEED Platinum Lewis and Clark Building. “Oak is readily available in the Midwest so it was a perfect match for our needs,” she says. “The red and white oak used for the flooring applications was harvested from a sustainably managed forest in Missouri.”

Peter Syrett, AIA, Principal, Guenther 5 Architects, New York, New York, also believes in using materials native to the region. He specified cherry for the 28,000-square-foot Patrick H. Dollard Discovery Health Center in upstate New York, one of only two U.S. LEED-certified health care facilities, and New York’s first medical facility to implement green building standards that meet state Department of Health requirements. “The Northeast has the greatest variety of hardwood trees in the entire country,” says Syrett, explaining Guenther 5’s decision to use cherry as the featured hardwood in the project. “When we specify wood, for sustainability reasons we make sure to use what we call ‘regional native species.’ We chose to work with cherry for this reason, but also because it is a beautiful wood that worked very well with the rest of the palette.”

Syrett focused the use of hardwood in patient recovery rooms, administrative offices and detailed accents throughout the facility in applications including paneling, millwork and cabinetry. “While most of the hardwood used was veneer, all edging and trim was crafted from solid stock,” says Syrett. “After three years, there have been no care or maintenance issues with the cherry wood products used in the facility.”


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