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There's No Good Architecture Without Daylight: How to Promote Designs Molded and Nurtured by Light

There's No Good Architecture Without Daylight: How to Promote Designs Molded and Nurtured by Light

Humans spend almost 90% of the time indoors; that's approximately 20 hours a day in closed rooms and 9 hours a day in our own bedrooms. The architectural configurations of these spaces are not random - that is, they have been designed or thought of by someone, and are at least slightly "guided" by the conditions of their inhabitants and their surroundings. Some people inhabit spaces specially catered to their needs and tastes, while others adapt and appropriate designs made for someone else, perhaps developed decades before they were born. In either case, their quality of life may be better or worse depending on the decisions that are made. 

Understanding the importance of carefully designing our interiors, particularly through the lens of access and enjoyment of natural light, was the purpose of the 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium, held on October 9 and 10 of 2019 in Paris. This year, more than 600 researchers and professionals attended and reaffirmed the importance of natural light, presenting a series of concrete tools that could help quantify and qualify light by designing its entry, management, and control with greater depth and responsibility.

Trailer / Invisible Studio. Image © Jim Stephenson Cortesía de Ruetemple NOKKEN Kindergarten / Christensen & Co Architects. Image © Bo Bolther © Jackie Meiring + 25

Sunlighthouse / Juri Troy Architects. Image © Adam Mork
Sunlighthouse / Juri Troy Architects. Image © Adam Mork

Natural light nourishes physical space and impacts people's lives

Architects seem to agree: today, more than ever, it's essential that buildings and homes incorporate natural light and fresh air as a fundamental part of their environmental conditions. Whether through new designs or transformations of existing buildings, natural light – properly manipulated – can deliver much of the quality of life that the density of large cities makes increasingly difficult to achieve. Although this claim seems obvious, other issues are often prioritized, especially when resources or technical knowledge are scarce.

Apartment House Baselstrasse / Felippi Wyssen Architects. Image Cortesía de Felippi Wyssen Architects
Apartment House Baselstrasse / Felippi Wyssen Architects. Image Cortesía de Felippi Wyssen Architects

We humans can spend 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air. And the health problems associated with an unhealthy space (poorly lit, poorly ventilated, noisy, excessively cold and/or hot) result in very high expenses for people and, on a larger scale, for governments. Thus, this issue is more complex than just 'add windows'. Its arrangement must not be random and the understanding of environmental conditions must be profound, delivering specific solutions in accordance with the architectural space and its functions. 

Nicolas Michelin​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
Nicolas Michelin​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group

Along these lines, Nicolas Michelin, founder of ANMA, presented a series of projects in which natural light was used in consideration of their occupants, associating it with large central meeting spaces. In the ARTEM University Campus in Nancy, France, for example, the architects designed a naturally ventilated gallery 700 meters long covered stained glass.

Here, the light is managed and screened to create a unique collective space: "The gallery is both a center of student living and a brand new public space. It is set to become a key focal point for the city, unique in its dimensions and spatial qualities," they comment in the description of the project.  

ARTEM Campus / ANMA. Image © Stéphane Chalmeau
ARTEM Campus / ANMA. Image © Stéphane Chalmeau
ARTEM Campus / ANMA. Image © Stéphane Chalmeau
ARTEM Campus / ANMA. Image © Stéphane Chalmeau

A similar operation was developed by the architects of Cui Kai Studio in the design of the China Pavilion for the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition 2019. Its large interior space is covered by a steel and photovoltaic glass structure, which absorbs energy from the sun while also collecting and storing rainwater. In this case, sunlight not only nourishes and activates the functions of the interior, but also incorporates sustainable solutions of high impact for its users and context.

Cui Kai. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
Cui Kai. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
2019 International Horticultural Expo's China Pavilion. Image © Xinhua
2019 International Horticultural Expo's China Pavilion. Image © Xinhua
2019 International Horticultural Expo's China Pavilion. Image © Cui Kai Studio
2019 International Horticultural Expo's China Pavilion. Image © Cui Kai Studio

Research and new technologies: design tools focused on natural light

Virtual Reality, simulators, predictive software, saliency maps, and innovative measurement systems. A series of recent advances and research have allowed us to develop new methodologies to quantify and qualify the lighting and other environmental conditions of our projects. And although each place in the world presents a particular climate, studies such as the one presented by Clotilde Pierson, Ph.D. Candidate of the University of Louvain (BE), indicate that people from different cultures do not show significant differences in their subjective perceptions of indoor natural light. Observations of human behavior, the application of appropriate measurement tools, and a hint of intuition could result in valuable contributions to the design of the buildings of the future. How will this architecture relate to natural light?

"Crowd-based Illuminance Maps: Comparing Daylight Perception" by Muhammad Hegazy. Image Cortesía de Muhammad Hegazy
"Crowd-based Illuminance Maps: Comparing Daylight Perception" by Muhammad Hegazy. Image Cortesía de Muhammad Hegazy
"Crowd-based Illuminance Maps: Comparing Daylight Perception" by Muhammad Hegazy. Image Cortesía de Muhammad Hegazy
"Crowd-based Illuminance Maps: Comparing Daylight Perception" by Muhammad Hegazy. Image Cortesía de Muhammad Hegazy

Design molded by environmental conditions

In their presentation titled 'Can natural lighting shape architecture?', Aline Branders, Sebastian Moreno-Vacca, and the architects of A2M consider the importance of designs shaped by 'flows' such as energy, humidity, and light. Their approach is to respond to these conditions with the sensitivity of passive design, using the tools and technologies available to empirically guide the process:

Belgian Embassy by A2M (Kinshasa, DRC). First passive house building in Africa.. Image Cortesía de A2M
Belgian Embassy by A2M (Kinshasa, DRC). First passive house building in Africa.. Image Cortesía de A2M

"New tools and software allow us to precisely acknowledge the implications of the building envelope as soon as the first sketch is created. We aim to design buildings that don’t rely on high technology and mechanical input to be comfortable but on the physical design of the volume itself. It means relying on the physical capacities of the materials (insulation, mass, shading, glass...) instead of the mechanical energy of the systems (heating, cooling, artificial, light...)."

 Aline Branders & Sebastian Moreno-Vacca​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
Aline Branders & Sebastian Moreno-Vacca​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group

Design focused on creating healthy spaces

It's clear: a poorly lit room is a perfect space for the incubation of microbes. According to research led by Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, Ph.D. of the University of Oregon (USA), "Microbial communities are found in the dusty corners of buildings, on floors, walls, and in the air. Indoor dust includes particulate matter that settles from the air, impacting indoor air quality and providing the moisture and nutrients needed for microbial communities to thrive indoors."

"Daylight and the Indoor Microbiome" by Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg. Image Cortesía de Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg
"Daylight and the Indoor Microbiome" by Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg. Image Cortesía de Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg

To increase their understanding of this relationship, Van Den Wymelenberg and his team of researchers developed experimental and controlled spaces, replicating different temperature conditions, relative humidity, and daylight exposure. The results of the study, which concluded after 90 days, indicate that sunlight deactivates certain taxa in microbial communities, reducing their flowering and propagation.

Cortesía de Ruetemple
Cortesía de Ruetemple

Design conceived from people's needs

Glare and thermal discomfort are conditions that could affect us all. And although they can be controlled through user-managed systems, such as blinds or solar screens, there are automated and responsive systems that could be much more efficient and accurate when handling the shadow levels of interior space.

NOKKEN Kindergarten / Christensen & Co Architects. Image © Bo Bolther
NOKKEN Kindergarten / Christensen & Co Architects. Image © Bo Bolther

For example, the obstruction maps presented by Andy McNeil, specialist in façade behavior of Kinestral Technologies (USA), allow building technologies to check the position of the sun in real-time and thus determine the 'shadow state' of a specific window: "These maps allow the dynamic façades to admit diffused daylight when a window is in shadow for prolonged periods of time, improving daylight amenity provided to occupants." In addition, they provide a visual record of the light conditions of a building when installing the device.

"Photographic Obstruction Maps - Shadow Responsive Shading Control in Dense Cities" by Andy McNeil. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
"Photographic Obstruction Maps - Shadow Responsive Shading Control in Dense Cities" by Andy McNeil. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group

For people with reduced mobility, there exist software programs that identify and score potential visual risks within a space, helping us design safer and more accessible environments in consideration of different degrees of lighting and shade. For example, at a certain time of day, the edge of a step could go unnoticed because of a low-contrast light, causing accidents. Situations such as these could be avoided by using predictive tools such as this prototype presented by Rob Shakespeare, Lighting Designer at the University of Indiana (USA) and a member of the Designing Visually Accessible Spaces (DeVAS) group.

"Designing Visually Accessible Spaces: Predicting Visibility" by Rob Shakespeare. Image Cortesía de Rob Shakespeare
"Designing Visually Accessible Spaces: Predicting Visibility" by Rob Shakespeare. Image Cortesía de Rob Shakespeare

Design based on efficiency and profitability

Vivian Loftness, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (USA), said in her presentation that "a certain degree of quantification is essential for investors to opt for high-quality natural light solutions." The idea is to be able to demonstrate with concrete data the savings generated by the design decisions, for example, by quantifying the number of years in which the investments made will be recovered by opting for a specific solution. "We need systems that are turned off as long as possible – buildings that ‘surf” through hours, days, months and seasons," she added.

Vivian Loftness​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group
Vivian Loftness​. 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium. Image Cortesía de VELUX Group

In the same way, the ability to ensure the precise amount of natural light that the different interiors of a property will receive can help increase its profitability. According to the study presented by Christoph Reinhart, head of the MIT Construction Technology program in Cambridge (USA), the value of a lease in well-lit apartments in Manhattan, New York, is on average 5% higher than in those with low natural lighting. In the study, the metric used was the spatial autonomy of daylight (Spatial Daylight Autonomy or sDA), which describes the 'percentage of habitable area' that receives enough natural light. To be considered 'well lit', space must receive at least 300 lux for at least 50% of the hours in which it is used.

Moose Road / Mork-Ulnes Architects. Image © Bruce Damonte
Moose Road / Mork-Ulnes Architects. Image © Bruce Damonte

The importance of darkness

The presentation by Suzanne Deoux, Doctor of Medicine and Professor at the Université d'Angers (FR), reminds us that the levels of darkness in an interior space are as important as their light levels. Natural lighting synchronizes our biological rhythms, and darkness, especially, is necessary for our bodies to secrete melatonin, a hormone that regulates the cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Light and noise pollution at night is potentially harmful to people's health, effecting the development of diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes, or obesity. Therefore, darkness must also be considered when designing with light in mind, making sure that the same openings that allow daylight to enter can supply necessary darkness, in quantity and quality, so that our internal clock works correctly.

Cortesía de Mjölk architekti
Cortesía de Mjölk architekti

We spend almost 90% of the time indoors, will it always remain that way?

This percentage is repeated like a mantra. Increasingly extreme climates and increasingly populated cities don't suggest a very different picture. Meanwhile, the ways in which we inhabit these compact interiors are gradually changing, driving the development of open and collective typologies such as those presented by Carla Cammilla Hjort, Co-Founder and Director of SPACE10 (DK), based on her research How will we live in the year 2030?.

The Urban Village Project, a collaboration between SPACE10 and EFFEKT Architects. Image © Made by EFFEKT Architects for SPACE10
The Urban Village Project, a collaboration between SPACE10 and EFFEKT Architects. Image © Made by EFFEKT Architects for SPACE10

A deep understanding of the interaction between buildings, sunlight, and natural environmental conditions is essential, allowing us to correctly guide increasingly prevalent trends and ensuring, at least, quality environmental conditions for the millions of people who will continue to make our architecture their home.

House Bäumle / Bernardo Bader. Image © Adolf Bereuter
House Bäumle / Bernardo Bader. Image © Adolf Bereuter

Check out the full lectures presented at the 8th VELUX Daylight Symposium on this YouTube Playlist.

About this author
Cite: Franco, José Tomás. "There's No Good Architecture Without Daylight: How to Promote Designs Molded and Nurtured by Light" [Sin luz natural no hay buena arquitectura: ¿Cómo promover diseños moldeados y nutridos por la luz?] 09 Dec 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/929673/theres-no-good-architecture-without-daylight-how-to-promote-designs-molded-and-nurtured-by-light/> ISSN 0719-8884
NOKKEN Kindergarten / Christensen & Co Architects. Image © Christensen & Co Architects

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