Profession: Daylightecture – architecture follows light

16. Oct 2015

The architecture of the future will be defined by light
Discussions within the framework of the Velux Daylight Symposium

Text: Joachim Ritter
Photos: Velux

Energy issues in particular will give rise to architectural solutions that will not only be shaped by daylight, but defined by it as well. Political goals leave planners no other alternative than to make natural light the focus of design again. According to current political objectives, by the year 2100 our society will be able to manage to survive without the emission of CO2. This is a further extension to the decisions made a few years ago to limit the average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius by 2050, which experts are sceptical about being achievable. This means to say that researchers and practising planners are called upon more than ever to come up with feasible future-oriented solutions using sustainable energy resources. What is probably even more important is the awareness that there is no light in the world that plays a greater role in supporting and maintaining our health and well-being than daylight. Experts in the field have been discussing this for years, but to the general public and politicians it has been no more than a passing mention. And the way some architecture is designed today unfortunately still leaves a lot to be desired. The International Year of Light 2015, proclaimed by the UN and UNESCO, has had some effect and has generated interest for the topic in architectural circles as well as in society as a whole. On the occasion of the sixth Velux Daylight Symposium in London, Prof. John Dudley, one of the initiators of the International Year of Light 2015, reported of the numerous activities that have taken place to date around the world and are beginning to make an impact. Although the original idea behind the International Year of Light stemmed from the world of optical technologies, the entire industry has in the meantime taken this on board and seized the opportunity to learn more about the power of light. And not only electric light. Daylight, too, is being discussed and debated in considerable detail Discussions about the use of daylight are gaining interest in the architectural world. More isolated applications involving daylight as an active part of an energy efficiency concept, or the passive use of solar energy, are in evidence. Buildings are as much a part of this debate as urban planning.

Modern computer programmes such as UMI (Urban Modelling Interface) are beginning to contribute towards optimising urban planning from an energy efficiency as well as from a daylight design point of view. UMI is a Rhino-based design environment for architects and urban planners interested in modelling the environmental performance of neighbourhoods and cities with respect to operational and embodied energy use, walkability and daylighting potential. UMI is being developed by the Sustainable Design Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with support from a National Science Foundation EFRI_SEED project, the MIT Energy Initiative, the Kuwait-MIT Center, the Center for Complex Engineering Systems (CCES) at KACST and MIT, Transsolar Climate Engineering and United Technologies Corporation. Joining forces at this level makes absolute sense if we want to move forward. It also makes it clear that in the past many planners neglected the power of natural light when developing their concepts. Many architectural spaces are difficult to distinguish one from another when it comes to atmosphere, and have consequently degenerated into what can only be described as uninspired. You feel you are trapped in a box, although there are enough windows to escape through… Thinking out of the box is (literally) becoming increasingly more difficult. And there is not much in the way of literature when it comes to how natural light can be used as a design element in an architectural space. New requirements relating to energy savings and what planners tend to perceive as the ‘enforced use of daylight’ have put us in a situation where we can no longer make out what is light and what is architecture, because everything is simply overly bright. Or the windows are so small that incident daylight does not have a chance to demonstrate its creative power. The time has come to seize natural light as a real chance and to communicate this to architects again. Current standards should not be regarded or accepted as the be all and end all. As a relic from the past, standards define the minimum requirements to ensure people can see their surroundings or focus on a visual task. At this moment in time energy-related aspects and issues affecting users’ well-being are not even part of the picture. Work groups comprising experts from relevant fields have really only just begun, and change in the form of amended definitions for the standards is only likely to occur in the next few years. And further research is necessary in order to be able to create a broader basis for scientific fundamentals. In this respect, current standards do no more than define where the boundary is to inacceptable lighting within archi-tecture, and indicate what is legally legitimate. This “boundary” will need to undergo a shift in the near future and be re-defined to raise daylight quality in planning processes and buildings. In this context, the Daylight Symposium initiated and staged by Velux has become a significant platform for researchers and planners. The international conference takes place every two years and encourages discussion on new research findings and practice-oriented daylight design in architecture. The focus of the change that is about to take effect is, therefore, design. This trend is also evident in other lines of products. Mobile phones are a prime example. Technically speaking, manufacturers of smart phones basically all offer the same product. It is the design that defines the quality of the individual product. In architecture, too, design and creativity will again be the key to success and individuality. The genius loci, and as a consequence the light loci, will determine the requirements daylight architecture needs to meet. And this, in turn, will require a broad basis of knowledge on the part of the planner, be s/he an architect or a specialist planner, such as a daylight designer. Daylight design, and in particular an awareness of the effect natural light has on human health and wellbeing, will thus define the design of architecture in the foreseeable future. The architectural world must open up to further education and deeper understanding. Nelson Mandela’s famous quote is also extremely valid in this context: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

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