Feb 5, 2009

Its all about how the light is captured son!!

This was a remark made by Christopher Plummer to Keanu Reeves in the movie "Lake House". Yes, a building's Architectural beauty depends a good deal on the way natural lighting is leveraged. All the Spaces and Buildings that have been called "timeless" such as from the old Greek Parthenon, Roman Basilicas (The Romans valued the usage of light in all their structures including their houses that had sun dappled courtyards) to the present structures have used light strongly as a design element.

I think every architect should be good with light, if not in the artistic sence, at least he should know how important natural light is for the user’s well being. It affects mood, health, and visual character of space in which we live or work. Just examining how our responses and sense of well being vary from a sunny day to a rainy, dark depressing afternoon reinforces this truth.

Natural light played an essential role in building and city design in the past, and still does today. Some excerpts below collected from the experts.

At a time when artificial light was either weak (candles) or very expensive (gaslight), the maximization of natural light in a building was vital to its success. Most of the original Victorian retail properties were along the north side of the street, facing south, so that the goods in the storefront interior would get the most extended possible visibility through the sunlight coming through their large windows. On the south side of the street many of the buildings were not retail, but rather workshops and factories, which were not so concerned with visibility at the front of the building (they got their sun from their rear windows).Victorian buildings had developed a range of techniques for managing natural light and its energy efficiently — techniques that we can learn about and bear in mind as we try to move towards a more sustainable, less energy-intensive future.

These techniques brought in direct light and heat in the winter, but only indirect light in the summer to keep the interior cool. Bay windows, for example, are not just ornamental. They bring in a lot of light with less exposure of energy-leaking windows, while in the summer they keep the heat of the direct high sun away from the main part of the room. Porches on residential streets (and awnings on retail streets) with large windows behind them have a similar effect, shading in the summer when people can get plenty of light outside, but allowing in direct light from the low sun of winter. (Modern buildings, with easy heating and cooling, can afford to be lazier and provide huge unshaded windows. But the result can be pretty inconvenient — they let in a lot of cold in the winter, and make the place really hot and bright in the summer.

Another aspect to consider: when a building is designed to maximize the benefits of natural light & ventilation, vs. relying on artificial delivery of same, its core-to-window distances will be lower. This in turn means that such buildings are more adaptable: they can change from office space to residential, or vice versa.

Later 20th century office towers, with their large floor-plates and relatively huge core-to-window (or exterior wall) distances, could never be adapted for residential use. The adaptability of buildings is, over the long-term life of a city, a key benefit as well as prerequisite for the city’s economic & social success. So, designing with the natural benefits of light has implications here, too, insofar as it maximizes the building’s adaptability, possibly increasing its overall lifespan.

The city should look in to legislating that all new “big box” retail buildings with huge roof areas should have skylights to the retail space below. That way the 1000s of high intensity lights inside could be turned off or down during the days (especially in summer when electricity demand is the highest). Many European cities have legislation that **every** workspace have an openable window to the outside. Recent studies showing a link to increased cancer in shift workers not exposed to natural light cycles. One more important use of light today is as a therapeutic element in hospitals. Natural Light has also been proven to increase worker productivity and natural light in Prisons in Northern Europe have proven to speed up the rehabilitaion process for prisoners. Natural Light in schools has been proven to enhance test scores. Natural light has found to be a cure for Insomnia.

The role of natural light goes beyond energy, though. It is critical to our personal well-being. To design a space with soul the architect must not forget that its “all in the light”.

Every good architect uses light in some innovative way. A few samples below- Tadao Ando and the Church of Light. (www.galinsky.com/buildings/churchoflight/index.html) Le Corbusier and the Chapel of NĂ´tre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp (http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/ronchamp/index.htm) Franklin D Israel and the Jupiter House (http://www.callas-shortridge.com/jupiter1.html) Louis Khan and his work "on Silence and Light". Philip Exeter Library. (http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Exeter_Library.html) Louis Khan has postulated a theory between light and architecture and the relationship between usage of space, need for light, quality of light over different task surfaces, contrasts of lighting in one space, complimentary use of artificial lighting with natural lighting etc... Some of the modern buildings that use natural light for task lighting in a very effective manner are the: Peter Zumthor, Thermal Bath House (http://www.archidose.org/Jun99/062199.htm) Norman Foster, the Reichstag in Berlin. (http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/reichstag/index.htm) Some other examples from: http://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/architecture-overview-light/2710

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