Lighting has a substantial effect on human wellbeing and is crucial in the design of any interior space.
So, in this month’s episode of Biophilic Moodboards, we’re looking into light. Dynamic and diffuse light to be precise, which summarizes the two main features driving the benefits of light on wellbeing.
The benefits of natural light
Light is a functional necessity to see what we’re doing.
But natural light is far more than that. Natural light is what controls our biological clock, driving hormones’ production to make us awake during the day and ready to rest as the night comes.
Natural light affects sleep quality, mental balance and mood. In practice, exposure to quality daylight has been shown to improve concentration, performance and mood in both children and adults. *
To simplify, the elements that make natural light so beneficial can be summarized with two adjectives:
- dynamic – because it changes during the day – from low and warm at dawn, to very bright and cool during the day, to low and warm again in the evening.
- diffuse – because it spreads in the space
Natural light in biophilic design
Natural light is key in every interior design. When constructing buildings, windows should be placed to ensure natural light throughout the interior space. And when designing an already-built space, the layout should be decided considering the availability of natural light as well.
Abundant natural light is particularly important in areas where people spend a lot of time.
This includes “the heart of the home” (whether this is the dining table of the living room), home offices or the desk space, when talking about biophilic office design.
Artificial lighting in biophilic design
Artificial lighting is a precious invention, but it can put our circadian rhythm off. This is because normally, artificial lighting is set to a fixed intensity and colour, taking away the beneficial dynamism of natural light.
This is one of the reasons why artificial lighting is best when designed in layers. Juxtaposing ambient, task and accent lighting creates an uneven – read dynamic – lighting distribution in the space.
Layering lighting also brings the space to life, creating several points of interest that stimulate sight. And making spaces engaging with sensory features is a key objective of biophilic design!
Technology also helps in making artificial lighting better for wellbeing.
As discussed when exploring the latest Human Centric Lighting innovations, modern bulbs allow for both colour tuning and intensity regulations. Some are also equipped with sensors that detect the level of natural daylight and adapt lighting accordingly (practically a natural analogues strategy at its best!)
In practice, modern lighting systems allow mimicking the changing colour and intensity of sunlight during the day. Following the innate needs of our bodies, this can have a huge impact on wellbeing!
The importance of flexibility
Another essential element when speaking of light is visual comfort. Namely, light should never be glaring.
Once again, it’s interior design’s task to prevent any occurrence of glare.
In the case of natural light, this means installing operable curtains and blinds. For artificial lighting, dimmers are the key. And the choice of materials also plays an important role.
These strategies are also precious in that they give occupants the possibility to adjust lighting according to the task at hand. And this sense of control over the space also has a role to play in overall wellbeing.
Designing with natural light
Not to be forgotten, natural light can become a decorative feature too. When designed intentionally, light and shadow effects become an artwork that’s never equal to itself and changes during the day and across seasons.
Light also interacts with other natural elements. The reflection of a water feature or the light filtering through the branches of a tree are examples of moving light that engages the senses. Turns out that many naturally-occurring light reflections follow a fractal pattern, bringing further interest in the design.
To summarize, light plays a key role in our overall wellbeing. And a deliberate use of both natural and artificial light in interior design opens many options to add character and functionality to the space while supporting wellbeing at the same time!
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- Heschong Mahone Group (2003). Windows and Classrooms: A Study of Student Performance and the Indoor Environment. (opened in a new window/tab) Pacific Gas and Electric Company: California Board for Energy Efficiency Third Party Program.
- Elzeyadi I.M.K. (2012). Quantifying the Impacts of Green Schools on People and Planet. (opened in a new window/tab) Research presented at the USGBC Greenbuild Conference & Expo, San Francisco, November 2012, 48-60.
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- Leslie R.P. & Conway K.M (2007). The lighting pattern book for homes. (opened in a new window/tab) New York: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. pp222.
- Beckett M. & Roden L.C. (2009). Mechanisms by which circadian rhythm disruption may lead to cancer. (opened in a new window/tab) South African Journal of Science 105, November/December 2009.
- Nicklas M.H. & Bailey G.B. (1996). Student Performance in Daylit Schools. Innovative Design. Web. June 2012
- Kandel E.R., Schwartz J.H., Jessell T.M., Siegelbaum S.A. & Hudspeth A.J. (2013). Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition. (opened in a new window/tab) New York: McGraw Hill.
- Figueiro M.G., Brons J.A., Plitnick B. , Donlan B., Leslie R.P. & Rea M.S. (2011). Measuring circadian light and its impact on adolescents. (opened in a new window/tab) Light Res Technol. 43 (2): 201-215.
- The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design is a framework conceptualized by Terrapin Bright Green