Text: Barbara Matusiak

05. Oct 2010

Daylight design for healthy learning environments

Two thousand years ago the citizens of The Roman Empire considered exposure to the sun to be so important that they had right-to-sunlight legislation! The pioneers of Modernism in architecture, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, recognized that the light levels necessary for health were much higher than those required for vision; they designed with the sun in mind. Current knowledge about the circadian system confirms that they were correct. Additionally, in the most recent research reviewed and summarized by Richard Hobday in his book “The healing sun”, we can find many striking examples: depressed psychiatric patients fare better if they are exposed to some sunlight in hospital, heart attack victims stand a better chance of recovery if they a rein sunlit rooms, and patients in hospitals need fewer pain-killers and are less likely to catch infections if they can see patches of sunlight in their rooms.

Is natural light fundamental to human health?
We know that nearly all biological functions in practically all living organisms vary in roughly 24-hourcycles. A wide range of body organs, including the brain, exhibit diurnal (or circadian) cycles of activity. At night, for example, the release of melatonin makes us feel sleepy, reduces stress and slows other functions that might interfere with sleep. When the secretion of melatonin decreases, we start to produce cortisol – often referred to as the stress hormone. We wakeup and become increasingly alert. Our circadian system affects our sleeping/waking, body temperature, melatonin and serotonin production, cortisol concentration, eating and drinking habits, mood, alertness, tiredness, sleepiness, performance, adrenaline concentration, urine production, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphor concentrations in urine, AGTH and growth hormone production.

But what role does natural light play?
It all starts on the retina. This part of the eye contains not only the “classical” photoreceptors which are used for vision, but also ganglion cells which respond to light and are called photosensitive ganglion cells. These cells contain the photo pigment melanopsin. The signals from the photosensitive ganglion cells follow a pathway to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). […]


The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 73

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