Let there be light

Esherick House

Whether consciously or unconsciously, most people would acknowledge the importance of lighting to the experience, or ’feel’ of a space. We can recognize that it is more pleasing to walk into, and use, a well lit space, flooded with natural light, than a dark and poorly lit one.  What is more interesting is that light, and quality of light in a space, can have a noticeable impact on us, and the activities we choose to undertake in them. 

This influential power of light is well known in the health care industry, where the effect of natural light on the healing process is an increasingly well documented and understood phenomenon.  In hospitals, studies show that differences in the quality of light can influence stress and pain levels in patients, significantly affecting recovery. Allowing and controlling natural light flow into hospital rooms can reduce pain, the need for analgesic drugs and the duration of patient stays. [i]

Similarly, in the educational sector, it is clearly documented that improving natural light flow into classrooms improves student performance. In a study by Heschong Mahone Group, it was found classrooms with the most amount of day lighting are seen to be associated with a 20% to 26% faster learning rate, and a 15% to 23% faster improvement rate.[ii]

Similar studies also reveal the positive effect of day lighting on retail sales and on office worker productivity.  We can delve further to discover if the exact reason for these results is due to improved visibility and light quality, or improved health, alertness and mood, or improved variation and changeability in the space, but the positive effects of daylight are clear.

Exeter Library

Studies and statistic aside, it isn’t hard to understand how important light, and quality of light are to our daily experiences, if we look at those moments we particularly enjoy. Paint a picture in your mind of a happy or joyful experiences: it’s likely to be set under clear blue summer skies. Consider how mesmerizing we find sunrises and sunsets. Why do we choose to holiday in the sun, grieve when we have to spend sunny weekdays inside working or covet the corner office with a view? Most people will generally admit to sunlight having an effect on their disposition and mood, whether it is generally ‘feeling better’, or more content or happy. 

The same can be said about artificial lighting, in that the quality of that light can have an effect on the experience.  Imagine a particularly special dining experience: are the lights dimmed, the candles burning or the lanterns hung and lit from the trees? Would that experience feel the same if it happened to be under the glare of a fluorescent tube?

LanternsImage from laboomeria

Stating in simply, we can affect the quality of our daily experiences, by controlling the quality of light in our spaces. No matter the type of fittings, fixtures or furniture we choose to put in a space, their effect on us will be lost or diminished if they are not presented in the right light.  This has obvious implications in the design and orientation of spaces, but also of considerable importance are those devices and screens which we use to control, diffuse and manipulate the play of light in our spaces.

[i] Evidence Based Health Care Design. Rosaly Coma, John Wily and Sons, New Jersey, 2009

[ii] Heschong Mahone Group. 1999. “Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship Between Daylighting and Human Performance.” Pacific Gas and Electric Company Report, on Behalf of the California Board for Energy Efficiency Third Party Program.

May 3, 2011

by Meriam Salama
in Light