More natural light from windows and skylights: The natural choice

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Since the dawn of human history our sun has not only been regarded a source of light, but also as a source of life itself. We now know that some ancient civilisations even worshipped the sun as a god because of its immense celestial presence.

Fast forward to around the turn of the twentieth century and scientific advances had enabled humans to manipulate light to such an extent that they could literally switch it on and off at will. Indeed, after Thomas Edison created the first truly reliable and sustainable light bulb in 1879, it seemed that humankind had finally tamed the light once and for all.

In the years that followed, humans became increasingly adept at emulating different times of the day using artificial light. For example, today we have the most advanced lighting technology ever devised; however, I’m still convinced that there will never be a satisfactory alternative to the real thing. And what’s more, I’m clearly not alone.

SOLARDOME PRO skylight AustriaI know this because in recent years new buildings have featured increasing numbers of windows and skylights – bouncing more light off walls, floors and ceilings to stimulate our brains and accentuate our surroundings. Furthermore, this trend looks like it’s here to stay. That’s because the benefits of increased natural light from windows and skylights are backed up by hard science1.

You see, natural light helps your brain produce more of the feel-good chemical, serotonin. Plus, natural light hitting your eyes also stems the production of melatonin, sometimes known as ‘the hormone of darkness’, which is often blamed for tiredness and lethargy. In fact, healthcare professionals now recognise that natural light has a substantial influence on people’s quality of life, with many cases of mild depression associated with the dark winter months.

I’m house hunting at the moment and the amount of natural light a property gives me has an enormous influence on how I rate it. Importantly, I need a kitchen with lots of natural light from either windows or skylights to wake me up in the morning and make me feel positive about the day ahead.

I sometimes wonder if this aversion to darkness is a family trait because my grandmother moans almost every day except when the sun is out. But then again, maybe it isn’t a family thing at all; maybe it’s a human thing.

St Pancras Station skylightsOn a recent trip to London I passed through St. Pancras station where I was immediately struck by the amount of natural light flooding in from the glazed roof, which is a bit like an enormous skylight. It suddenly occurred to me that the Victorians who built this magnificent station, which was the largest enclosed space in the world at the time, knew all about the importance of natural light. It’s as if the wheel has finally come full circle, I thought.

If only we had followed their example instead of trying to defy nature, current generations would be spared the unfortunate legacy of many drab twentieth century buildings: buildings whose designers seemed stubbornly indifferent to the benefits of natural light.

Do you see natural light as fundamentally important to your quality of your life? Perhaps you have built/changed/renovated to maximise light, or have seen a great example of this having been achieved. Please let us know your thoughts below.

1 A Literature Review of the Effects of Natural Light on Building Occupants

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