By: Rick Hess/Mae Case, DI
Taking advantage of natural resources in the built environment brings numerous benefits, and natural light can transform a space. Daylighting is the practice of bringing natural sunlight into our spaces both to conserve energy by using less artificial lighting and to maximize comfort within the interior. Also, daylighting can be an important component of sustainable design, but its other benefits can be equally valuable.
Research shows that daylighting increases worker performance, which in turn makes businesses more successful. “The right balance can be achieved through the use of active daylighting control strategies, [such as] automated shades, as well as passive strategies, [such as] light shelves or louvers,” says Joseph Park of Lutron Electronics. And daylighting doesn’t only help adults: it also increases student performance in schools. The Heschong Mahone Group noted that “classrooms with the most amount of daylighting are seen to be associated with a 20% to 26% faster learning rate.” In their study of over 21,000 students, test scores were higher for students in classrooms with natural daylight.
“Daylight triggers our circadian rhythms and contributes thereby to our health and well-being” states Thomas Schielke . According to the firm HLB Lighting Design, Americans spend an average of 85-95% of their time indoors. As interior designers and architects we have a responsibility to provide healthy interiors for our occupants. There are various ways to incorporate natural daylight to create the healthiest of environments including proper facing windows, screens, shades, skylights, louvers and even the diffusing of light. If done with thought and research, early in the design process, daylighting can contribute to the improved health of a building’s users, creating a comfortable and healthy atmosphere worth spending the day in.
Did you know that providing adequate and efficient daylighting techniques can increase sales for your business? HLB also researched this phenomenon and reports that “In addition to increasing sales for retailers, daylighting helps create customer loyalty, better product visibility and appeal, more relaxed shoppers, increased employee morale, and an overall elevated shopping experience.” Do you find yourself returning to the malls that are outdoors or flooded with natural daylight? Now you know why you have been so loyal to these shops.
Energy efficiency has been growing in importance over the past decade and continues to be a critical part of sustainability. Daylight-sensing controls can reduce the energy used in buildings by up to 60 percent, according to the studies ‘Photoelectric Control: The Effectiveness of Techniques to Reduce Switching Frequency’ (2001) and ‘Summertime Performance of an Automated Lighting and Blinds Control System’ (2002). Interior designers and architects use information about a project site and climate to determine the most energy-efficient placement and orientation of windows, and solar panels or photovoltaic cells can reduce the environmental impact even further by collecting sunlight and converting it into energy.
The last benefit on our list is perhaps the most spectacular. Light has the ability to shape form, and not just in an aesthetically pleasing way. Many designers actually use light to shape form in interiors to assist with wayfinding. When daylighting reveals the true form of the design, the architecture and interior design become alive. When daylighting reveals form there can also be a spiritual awakening that seems to manifest its way throughout the space.
Natural light makes almost any space more inviting. Humans thrive in sunlight. Besides being crucial to our overall survival, manipulating natural light to our advantage makes it an extremely valuable natural resource. By keeping daylighting in mind when planning a space, interior designers can help the users of a space conserve energy, improve their well-being, increase their productivity, shape the habits of customers in a retail space, and manipulate shape within the design. It’s a resource with countless benefits to both people and the environment in which we live.