Guest post by Brent Protzman, Lutron Electronics
Our environments are awash in daylight.
Cities are dominated by glass curtain-wall skyscrapers, filling skylines with endless vistas of floor-to-ceiling windows. Suburbs feature low-slung office parks with big, open facades. College campuses, hotels, even occasional manufacturing facilities – all usually make room for letting the sunshine in.
Yet we’re still finding ways to take full advantage of daylight’s benefits. It’s a challenging issue, leaving daylight in an uneasy battle with electric light for brightening our spaces – ignored or underrated in lighting designs, and poorly controlled to boot.
Fortunately, this is starting to change. Along with the growing awareness of the WELL, LEED, and BREEAM building standards — which incorporate a variety of recommendations for daylight exposure and control — and acceptance of building codes that support more use of daylight harvesting, there’s a greater incentive to embrace daylight as part of the overall lighting design of a space.
There is also a renewed recognition of daylight’s positive effects among members of the design community. Optimizing daylight helps structures meet green building standards and sustainability goals by saving on energy costs. In addition, studies have indicated that exposure to daylight and views helps building occupants perform better on tests of memory function. Similarly, people actually prefer having access to daylight and views: it can lead to greater work satisfaction, play a role in attracting and retaining talent, and even contribute to a sense of well-being. Daylighting is the most impactful thing we can do in lighting design.
However, progress has been slow. Larger architecture firms and lighting design firms are adding daylighting specialists, but the job is still the exception, not the rule. In addition, daylight tends to be a side discussion at major architecture, sustainability, and lighting conferences.
The solution is to think of daylight and electric lighting as part of a whole – one that intersects with energy codes, thermal issues, architectural design, and the human experience in general.
Setting the standard
It’s a delicate balance.
For one thing, an architectural design is made up of countless details — all of which contribute to the overall viability of a building, but sometimes work at cross-purposes. Light alone is a complex mix of variables: Large windows may let in huge amounts of light, but also a great deal of heat, which affect the building’s HVAC system. Dynamic daylighting systems, such as automated shades, can help cut glare and heat gain, but if their critical importance isn’t specified early in the process, they run the risk of being perceived as expensive extras instead of beneficial amenities – and being eliminated by an architect or project manager – especially if these critical elements aren’t stressed.
And how will spaces be designed? Will the building contain open offices, walled-off suites, rows of heat-generating and electricity-consuming computer servers, glassed-in conference rooms, expansive public spaces – or all of the above?
There are a thousand tiny considerations, and that’s not even getting into the energy and engineering codes a building must adhere to.
The newest architectural standards, such as WELL, push design teams across several disciplines to think holistically about integrated design that meets a wide range of end-user needs. Just as an HVAC expert has to understand air quality along with heating and cooling, professionals who optimize daylight can’t just focus on light brightness and intensity; they should consider energy usage, thermal comfort, and color temperature, among other attributes.
In other words, the thrust of good lighting design isn’t simply about balancing daylight and electric light. It’s about the overall quality of that light, and the impact it has on the building occupant.
The human factor
Which brings up another set of issues. “Daylighting” is considered a single idea, but daylight doesn’t come in just one flavor – light changes with the seasons, with the weather, even with the time of day. Location also plays a role: light in Chicago is dissimilar to that in Los Angeles, Dubai or Cape Town.
In addition, daylight is introduced through windows, which have their own variables including glazing, window systems, even facades. Views, too, vary widely – concrete canyons in Midtown Manhattan, tree-lined parking lots in office parks, pastoral byways on college campuses, or the view of the pool from the guestrooms at fine hotels.
For all the seeming simplicity of the sun shining down on the earth, daylighting is difficult to do well.
So collaboration between design experts isn’t just recommended – it’s necessary. We need access to daylight, we need access to views, and we need the right electric light for the right situation, with the control we get from dimmers, sensors, timeclocks, and tunable LED technology.
In fact, tunable LED systems that can mimic daylight color temperature and intensity greatly strengthen the connection to the outdoors. Those systems help create a seamless flow of natural light into a well-designed, daylit space – one that should also include quality light, intuitive controls, and smart, automated technology. Altogether, the combination offers the full benefits of daylight to building occupants.
Lutron Electronics, for example, recently introduced what we call the Lutron HXL approach. It is a broad approach to human centric lighting that employs four elements of lighting design that allow people to be, work and feel their best: quality light, natural light, connection to the outdoors, and adaptive and personalized controls. Each element has its own positive impact, but the overall thrust is to combine elements to create extraordinary human experiences in the buildings where we work and live.
Because, finally, lighting is about people. As human beings, we gravitate to daylight and still obey its cycles of change. But we also spend the majority of our time indoors and require electric lighting that provides comfort and visual support. With the combined knowledge of diverse members of the design industry, we can create buildings that aren’t just places we occupy, but spaces that help enhance our lives. We’re already moving in this direction, and I see a bright future ahead.