Natural light for natural learning COMMENT

Jens Christoffersen of Velux looks at why natural light is so important in learning environments, and discusses various design interventions for increasing it

Merlet College, The Netherlands, by Ector Hoogstad Architects © Arjen Schmitz A

common antidote to the ‘winter blues’ is often a break in a warmer, sunnier climate, preferably with white sandy beaches and clear blue waters. The reinvigorating effect of natural light and warmth can also be felt on a smaller scale, and in a wide range of environments, from homes and offices to public buildings, schools and universities. It is perhaps no surprise then, that when a recent study looked at how the physical design of educational buildings affects student performance, one of the significant individual parameters found was lighting.

Why daylight?

Several studies have shown that daylight is not only good for children’s overall health and wellbeing, but that it can also significantly improve academic performance. One such study was ‘Impact of Lighting on School Performance in European Classrooms,’ conducted by the Sorbonne University using SINPHONIE Study data. It covered 13 European countries with a total of 2,387 children participating, concluded that academic performance can increase by up to 15 per cent when students work in classrooms with larger windows – due both to increased daylight, and a better view to the outside world. The Clever Classrooms study conducted by the University of Salford, UK, concluded that good daylight helps to create a sense of physical and mental comfort, its benefits are more far-reaching than merely an aid to sight.

How to design with daylight

While daylight does need to be supplemented by ample, high quality artificial lighting when outside light levels are low, where possible we should aim to make daylight the main source of lighting in schools.

When windows or skylights face north, the daylight entering a space tends to be softer and more diffused, with subtle changes in light levels and colour texture throughout the day. With other orientations, sunlight enhances the overall brightness of interiors, with specific areas of concentrated light. The challenge of designing with daylight is particularly evident in deep-planned classrooms, where there is a considerable distance between windows and the back of the room. Here there is often a disparity in light levels – bright near the windows, and darker further back. In situations where the shape or size of classrooms does not allow for adequate light levels throughout, and/or where the possibility of window space is limited, skylights are often the optimum solution. Where there is no direct access to the sky, light shafts are an effective alternative. A skylight typically provides more than twice the amount of daylight than a facade window of equal size.

Controlling excessive glare

Glare is created when areas that are too bright are located within the field of view, or when the contrast ratio is high. The recommended


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