January 2, 2013

Let there be daylight: New book illustrates use of natural light in design — with slide show

News and Information

Christopher Meek is a research associate professor in the University of Washington College of Built Environments.  He and Kevin G. Van Den Wymelenberg of the University of Idaho co-authored the book “Daylighting Design in the Pacific Northwest,” published in December 2012 by University of Washington Press. Meek answered a few questions about the book for UW Today.

Meek / Van Den Wymelenberg.

The handsomely lit third floor of the Terry Avenue Office Building, designed by Weber+Thompson Architects — and example of good use of daylight in design.

Q: What’s the basic concept behind  “Daylighting Design in the Pacific Northwest”?

Over the past 10 or 15 years there has been a wave of sustainable building design by architects and engineers in the Pacific Northwest. One of the hallmarks of this is the use of daylight as a primary source of illumination and to provide building occupants with a connection to the outside.

This book highlights 14 buildings that were chosen because each illustrates a particularly innovative concept or approach for bringing daylight into buildings. Our intention is to inspire designers and building users alike to raise the level of their expectations about what a daylit space is and to provide instruction on how to improve daylight design in buildings. To do this, all of our photographs use daylight as the primary, and usually the only, source of light so that the reader might more clearly see the distribution of daylight created by the architecture itself.

We have a strong design community in the Pacific Northwest and my co-author and I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with many incredibly talented architects and engineers to help design buildings that use daylight as the primary source of illumination. Much of this work has been through our university-based Integrated Design Labs. It is through that work that we got to know many of these projects.

Q:  What are the challenges in designing with light in the relatively sunless Pacific Northwest?

The Pacific Northwest overcast is ideal for daylighting buildings. In most commercial and institutional spaces such as classrooms or offices the goal is to provide diffuse daylight for working illumination and our overcast sky is ideal for that. Also, during the summer months when skies tend to be clear the sun angles are high enough that it is not too difficult to design sun shades to avoid glare and overheating.

Perhaps because of our overcast and short winter days in the Pacific Northwest, there is a greater appreciation for the quality of light and the value of daylight in particular. The dramatic nature of the Northwest landscape — the light, the topography — invites a strong impulse to bring that into our indoor environment. Daylight and views are a powerful way to do that, but it takes a sophisticated designer to make it all come together without creating glare, overheating or sacrificing energy performance.

Q. You state that until recently, “the same global and national influences that brought Modernism to the Pacific Northwest also brought a near-total reliance on electric light sources for interior illumination.” How has this changed in recent years?

Prior to about 1940 all buildings were daylit out of necessity. However, advances in heating, cooling, ventilating and lighting during the first half of the 20th century ushered in an era of unheard-of comfort and control. These developments offered architects a new formal freedom, allowing designers to forgo centuries-old geometric relationships that served to provide light and air to building occupants.

We are seeing a resurgence in the use of daylight in buildings, in part, because it offers the opportunity to use less lighting energy. However the primary driver is research into the effect of daylight and views on human health. Research by Lisa Heschong and others suggests that including daylight and views in our built environment leads to better outcomes in education, healing and work. Also, new developments in the science of photobiology and the impact of daylight on the circadian rhythm are beginning to reveal the importance of being connected to daylight.

Q. What do you hope readers and designers take away from this illustrated mediation on daylighting?

Our hope is that this work encourages readers to reassess the functional potential of daylight in buildings and embrace the dynamic qualities that make daylit spaces so compelling. Our hope is that we raise the expectations about the quality of the built environment and the role that light and daylight can play in creating healthy, dynamic and beautiful interior spaces that save energy and enrich the lives of the people that use them.

All of the photos in the slide show are credited to Meek and Van Den Wymelenberg,